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Archives for November 22, 2014

Heating with alternative fuels

Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2014 12:30 am

Heating with alternative fuels

By Bob Beyfuss
For Columbia-Greene Media


The recent cold snap has caused many of us to fire up the woodstove or outdoor furnace as we approach Thanksgiving weekend. Our local ski areas are furiously making snow in hopes of an early opening and it does look like some of them will be open for the upcoming four day weekend. It seems like it was just a week ago when I was sweating to get the garden cleaned up before heading south. For the first time in nearly 40 years I will not be relying on my woodstove this winter, as I plan to spend most of the frigid weather in sunny Florida. I gave away some of my surplus firewood to my friend Lester and he has purchased another two cords as backup. Fortunately, the price of fuel oil is also not as high as it had been. I think Lester paid $200 for a full cord, which seems like a very reasonable price. A full cord of well-seasoned, hardwood, firewood has the equivalent BTU’s to about 100 gallons of fuel oil.

If you are thinking about getting a wood stove, wood furnace, or pellet stove there are several things you need to consider in advance. The price of the device itself may be the least expensive aspect of the entire purchase. Most woodstoves need a dedicated chimney to exhaust the smoke. Your existing chimney, that serves the oil or gas heater is not likely adequate to service the woodstove. Prefabricated metal/asbestos chimneys cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars and new masonry chimneys may cost even more. Even chimneys that serve fireplaces may not work for a woodstove. Over time, many masonry chimneys may develop cracks or breaks in the flue liner. All chimneys need to be professionally inspected before hooking up any wood burning device. Outdoor wood furnaces need to be connected to your indoor plumbing by a professional. Before you buy anything, make sure it will be properly installed for safety and efficiency.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014 12:30 am.

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4-H Pecans Available

Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2014 4:00 am

Gardening tips for the holiday season

By Michael Potter / Horticulture columnist

The busy holiday season often allows some vacation time and time for relaxation. Nevertheless, there is always a little time to devote to gardening. Here are some gardening and decorating tips for weeks to come:

1. Complete the planting of spring flowering bulbs. Tulips can be planted as late as early January. Just remember the do well if properly refrigerated and chilled 45 to 60 days prior to planting. Also remember that tulips and many other Dutch bulbs do not repeat bloom in our area. They should be treated as annuals.

2. Select and plant needed woody landscape plants. Winter planting allows the newly planted plants to become well established prior to spring growth and summer heat. Hold off on planting tropical and other cold sensitive plants that may be damaged by severe cold temperatures.

3. Provide supplemental moisture to both newly planted and evergreen landscape materials during dry winter periods. Adequate soil moisture will help prevent freeze damage. Be sure to avoid over watering. Soggy soils do more harm than good! This is also a great time to turn off the water for the lawn due to dormancy of our warm season grasses.

4. Composted fallen leaves make an excellent organic soil for spring and summer gardening. Don’t allow fallen leaves to collect on lawns. They block out light and decrease winter hardiness of the lawn. Mowing with a mulching mower will chop up the leaves and add organic matter to the soil.

5. Woody plants you wish to relocate in the landscape may be transplanted during the cold, dormant season. Prune 1/3 of top growth to compensate for root loss. Re-set the plants at their normal growing depth in well-prepared soil.

6. Keep potting soil of poinsettias and other holiday plants moist, but never extremely wet. Protect the plants from heat vents. All potted holiday plants need natural light and do best when not exposed to direct sun.

7. Some gift suggestions for gardening friends: a new gardening book, a subscription to a Texas gardening magazine, a good pair of by-pass pruners, a plant or a nice container.(Just to name a few.)

8. Order spring annual and vegetable seeds now so you will be ready to start them in the next month or so. Begin to select fruit and nut plants for a winter planting. Choose only varieties adapted to our area. Check the Montgomery County Extension web site at for a publication on Selecting Fruit and Nut Varieties for Montgomery County or go directly to: .

9. Right after Thanksgiving is a good time to plan, assemble and hang Christmas greenery. Many landscape plants are well suited to use for decorating. Some of those are holly, nandina, magnolia, cherry laurel, pine, Chinese photinia and others. For lasting arrangements, crush the cut ends of the stems and soak them overnight in water before displaying.

10. Make sure your faucets and irrigation systems are winterized. In addition, don’t forget to thoroughly water and then cover tender plants when temperatures drop below freezing.

11. Lastly, and one to grow on! We will be having the annual fruit and nut tree sale from 8:00 AM to1:00 PM on Saturday, January 24, 2014 at the Montgomery County AgriLife Extension Center on Airport Road just south of the Montgomery County Airport. This sale is excellent opportunity to get well adapted varieties of fruit and nut trees specifically selected for Montgomery County and not to mention that it will be the right time of the year to plant these trees. Have a great holiday season!

4-H Pecans Available

The pecans are in and available now at the 4-H Office. They have shelled halves and pieces from this year’s crop. If you’re like most people, the squirrels and crows ate up your pecan crop without leaving as much as a thank you note! So stop by and pick up some pecans for holiday baking. Don’t wait too long because supplies are limited. Call for availability: 936-539-7823. Proceeds go to support our 4-H youth programs in Montgomery County.

Don’t forget to send your garden questions to Plant Answers at 9020 Airport Rd., Conroe TX 77303 or e-mail:


Saturday, November 22, 2014 4:00 am.

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Winter gardening tips: Alan Titchmarsh on why you need to get outside

We’ve put up an octagonal summerhouse and, in low and slanting shafts of winter sunshine, it is a great place to sit with a cup of coffee and read the papers. 

You need not go to such extravagant lengths to find somewhere to sit. Few gardens have enough benches, but then few keen gardeners have much time to sit down. Our gardens are there to be enjoyed, as well as tended. Choose a sturdy, hardwood bench and put it where you can enjoy a view of a bed or border.

Perhaps you have a border that is the wrong shape, or one that offers little pleasure in winter. If so, tackle it now and add plants that look good in the garden centre. The spot of instant colour will be like a shot in the arm over the next few weeks and, come next year, the niggles will have vanished as if by magic.

The garden out of bounds? Only for those without a jot of imagination.

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column in today’s Daily Express. For more informationon his range of gardening products, visit

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Royal Oak looks to mold downtown plaza into ‘smart park’

The small area behind the Center Street parking structure was just supposed to be a spot where the city stored its picnic tables until the next weekly Summer Concert Series event.

That is until those picnic tables, locked together in bunches, became a gathering place of sorts for area business employees and visitors.

Judy Davids, community engagement specialist for Royal Oak, said even when the concert series ended in mid-August those who used the tables asked the city to not remove them.

“We never would have guessed locking those picnic tables together would create such a unique and good public space,” she said.

In an effort to capitalize on that interest, the city is working with Detroit-based Living Lab to come up with a concept plan, supporting graphics and a cost estimate to see if the city can create something permanent in the area. The cost for Living Lab to do the work is $4,000.

Dubbed the Center Street Smart Park, the plan is to create a space that would include technology and Wi-Fi access, sustainable landscaping, smart materials, tables to eat and work, interactive LED lights, solar charging stations and a “technology wow factor” among other ideas.

To make the park a reality, the city plans to take advantage of the program the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Michigan Municipal League rolled out earlier this year called Public Spaces, Community Places.

This initiative gives local communities the opportunity to raise money with the MEDC matching every dollar up to $100,000.

“This is a great adaptive reuse of what is essentially a walkway,” city commissioner Jeremy Mahrle said. “We are looking for reasons to have people sit and stay in Royal Oak and this is a great idea.”

Both Mahrle and Mayor Jim Ellison also put to rest any rumors that this would take the place of the city’s large-scale plans to create a downtown central park.

“We are still working on that one,” Ellison said. “This, though, is the true definition of a pop-up park because it popped up where we had no idea it was going to happen because there was a need for it.

“It’s a great idea and a great use of some underused land in our downtown.”

Davids said Living Lab hopes to hold a half-day collaborative design session to help create the plan, and once the plan is in place, a multi-step public outreach plan will begin to raise the money needed.

“As far as we know, we would be the first city in the nation to have a smart park,” Davids said.


Twitter: @SOKEccentric

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Planning a New Life, Free From Fear of Deportation

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How landscaping can deter intruders, pests

Done right, landscaping can do much more than attract compliments and boost your property value. It can help you repel intruders, both human and natural.

Landscaping experts who’ve earned high marks from Angie’s List members say overgrown bushes and shrubs are like welcome mats to burglars. Keep plants and trees trimmed. Place thorny but attractive bougainvillea or barberry bushes under windows, sending would-be thieves a sharp message to go elsewhere.

Other ideas for enlisting your landscaping as part of your home security system:

• Don’t give thieves the idea that nobody’s paying attention. Mow your grass and maintain plantings and trees. If you’re going to be away awhile, hire a reputable lawn service.
• Illuminate your home and property with security lighting. Options include motion-sensor lights, solar pathway lighting, uplighting on the house and downlighting in trees. Newer lighting controls are relatively easy to use and can turn systems on and off when you want. LEDs can be a long-lasting, high-value lighting option.
• While it may not be obvious, landscaping could be key to preventing a more natural intruder: rainwater. Take a look at how your lawn or flower beds slope. If they slant toward your home, guess where water flows?

Ways to address the problem include:

• Keep mulching materials about six inches from siding, to prevent mulch from wicking moisture to the siding and causing rot. It’s OK if mulch touches brick or block.
• Prevent rain pouring out of overflowing gutters from displacing soil and allowing water to pool. Cover the area with river stones or other decorative rock.
• Regrade your lawn. Methods include creating a “dry creek,” in which a simple trench, lined with river rock or cobblestones, channels water away from the house. Another option is a French drain, in which water flows into a gravel-lined trench, through a pipe and away from the house.
• Garden experts say you can repel mosquitoes and other pesky insects by planting or potting specific plants, flowers and herbs, including citronella, marigolds, basil and lavender.

Before you hire a landscaper for some of the more complicated projects, get estimates from several companies with good reputations on a trusted online review site. Confirm appropriate licensing, insurance and bonding. Contact references and get all pertinent details in writing.

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Yard MD blog: Brewster Village garden dedicated

Resident Bob Yandre, who watched over garden construction all summer, gets first ride along new pathway.Landscape construction class built new garden for residents and families to enjoy. November 20, 2014.
Rob Zimmer/Post-Crescent Media

Students enrolled in the landscape construction program at Fox Valley Technical College received an entire summer’s worth of hands-on experience using the newest, state-of-the-art construction equipment at nearby Brewster Village, where they spent most of the season, and well into fall, creating a peaceful outdoor sanctuary.

The program, led by horticulture instructor Jim Beard, involved the design and creation of a stone pathway, arbors, trellises and a gazebo to create a quiet place for family members of residence to gather for peaceful moments, contemplation and reflection.

Beard designed the hardscaping himself, while students in the program went to work, under Beard’s supervision to bring the designs to life.

Man on the move

Throughout the summer construction season, Bob Yandre, resident at Brewster Village, enjoyed watching the creation of the gardens and structures from his motorized wheelchair. Beard and his student crew enjoyed getting to know Yandre, a Korean War veteran with a reputation for being constantly on the move.

“My dad is 83 years old,” said daughter Patty Leiker. “He is always on the move and I know he thoroughly enjoyed being ‘honorary foreman’ of the Fox Valley Tech project, especially since he is a 52-year member of the Operating Engineers Local 139, spending his working days in construction operating the backhoe.”

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Beard and Yandre, both veterans, became quick friends and it became clear to Beard that their mutual bond was a lasting one. Moved by Yandre’s spirit and presence at the work site all season long, Beard said it was only fitting that Yandre be the first to travel the new walkway and path leading beneath the arbor and into the newly constructed gazebo.

As the final touches were put into place on the project, including edging and mulching, Yandre was invited to the site located on the northeast corner of the grounds where he guided himself along the beautifully designed pathway to the main arbor.

Visibly in approval of the newly completely project, Yandre and Beard exchanged a touching conversation as student workers rushed to get everything into place before the coming cold.

A special place

Beard and his student crews have designed and built a number of landscaping projects at Brewster Village, providing class participants with real-life experience, trial and error, creating and bringing to life elements that provide residents and family members with quiet places to enjoy the outdoors, privately when needed, as well as to witness the coming and going of the seasons.

You can bet Yandre will be spending a great deal of time in this newly completed section.

“While he misses my mom greatly, who passed away 4½ years ago from Alzheimer’s, he is happy living at Brewster Village because it has room for him to roam, and that is where my mom spent her last few months,” Leiker said.

— Rob Zimmer: 920-419-3734,;on Twitter @YardMD

• More from Yard MD: Build an easy natural bird feeder

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Trowel & Glove: Marin garden calendar for the week of Nov. 22, 2014

Click photo to enlarge


Digital show-and-tell: The Marin Orchid Society presents a slide show of members’ best blooms, and a do-it-yourself presentation from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 25 at the Tamalpais Room, San Rafael Corporate Center, 750 Lindaro St., San Rafael. Free. Go to

Gardening volunteers: The Novato Independent Elders Program seeks volunteers to help Novato seniors with their overgrown yards Tuesday mornings or Thursday afternoons. Call 899-8296.

Nursery volunteers: Volunteers are sought to help in Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy nurseries from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays at Tennessee Valley, 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, or 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at Muir Beach, 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the Marin Headlands. Call 561-3077 or go to

Nursery days: The SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) native plant nursery days are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays and weekends. Call 663-8590, ext. 114, or email to register and for directions. Go to for more information.

Garden visits: Marin Master Gardeners and the Marin Municipal Water District offer free residential Bay-Friendly Garden Walks to MMWD customers. The year-round service helps homeowners identify water-saving opportunities and soil conservation techniques for their landscaping. Call 473-4204 to request a visit to your garden.

Garden volunteers: Marin Open Garden Project (MOGP) volunteers are available to help Marin residents glean excess fruit from their trees for donations to local organizations serving people in need and to build raised beds to start vegetable gardens through the MicroGardens program. MGOP also offers a garden tool lending library. Go to or email

Harvesting volunteers: The Marin Organic Glean Team seeks volunteers to harvest extras from the fields at various farms for the organic school lunch and gleaning program. Call 663-9667 or go to

San Francisco

Botanical garden: The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, at Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park, offers several ongoing events. $7; free to San Francisco residents, members and school groups. Call 661-1316 or go to Free docent tours leave from the Strybing Bookstore near the main gate at 1:30 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. weekends; and from the north entrance at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Groups of 10 or more can call ahead for special-focus tours.

Floral palace: The Conservatory of Flowers, at 100 John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, displays permanent galleries of tropical plant species as well as changing special exhibits from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. $2 to $8. Call 831-2090 or go to

Around the Bay

Landscape garden: Cornerstone Gardens is a permanent, gallery-style garden featuring walk-through installations by international landscape designers on nine acres at 23570 Highway 121 in Sonoma. Free. Call 707-933-3010 or go to

Rose ranch: Garden Valley Ranch rose garden at 498 Pepper Road in Petaluma is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Self-guided and group tours are available. $5 to $10. Call 707-795-0919 or go to

Olive ranch: McEvoy Ranch at 5935 Red Hill Road in Petaluma offers tips on planting olive trees and has olive trees for sale by appointment. Olive milling available November and December. Call 707-769-4123 or go to

Garden volunteers: Wednesdays are volunteer days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center at 15290 Coleman Valley Road in Occidental. Call 707-874-1557, ext. 201, or go to

Botanical garden: Quarryhill Botanical Garden at 12841 Sonoma Highway in Glen Ellen covers 61 acres and showcases a large selection of scientifically documented wild source temperate Asian plants. The garden is open for self-guided tours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. $5 to $10. Call 707-996-3166 or go to

The Trowel Glove Calendar appears Saturdays. Send high-resolution jpg photo attachments and details about your event to or mail to Home and Garden Calendar/Lifestyles, Marin Independent Journal, 4000 Civic Center Drive, Suite 301, San Rafael, CA 94903. Items should be sent two weeks in advance. Photos should be a minimum of 2 megabytes and include caption information. Include a daytime phone number on your release.

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The dirt on getting better soil – Tribune

There is nothing more coveted by gardeners than perfect dirt. Crumbly, loamy soil that’s rich in organic matter and teaming with earthworms. It doesn’t come easy here in Western Pennsylvania (or anywhere, for that matter!), but it’s worth fighting for.

I know you may find it hard to believe, but our native soil isn’t half bad. Yes it’s clay-based, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you’ll come to learn in a bit. The problem is that many of our gardens are built on land that was stripped of its topsoil during the home’s construction. Or, the soil has been nutritionally depleted by the grass and other plants growing there, and Mother Nature hasn’t been allowed to replenish it with rotting leaves and the natural decomposition of other debris because we pick it all up every fall.

In order to understand how to fix our depleted soil and turn it into a gardening Mecca, you first have to understand what soil is comprised of.

Every sample of soil, be it a teaspoon or a truck load, contains relatively the same things. About 50 percent of the sample is mineral fragments, derived from rocks that have broken down over millions of years. These fragments come in three basic sizes: the largest is sand, in the middle is silt and the smallest particles are clay. The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies a soil based on how much of each size particle it has.

As I mentioned before, in our region, we have primarily clay-based soil. This means we’ve got a high percentage of clay, and that’s why our soils stay waterlogged in the spring and turn to concrete in the summer. The good news is that clay is relatively high in nutrient content, and we can actually improve it. The bad news is that clay particles are very sticky and tend to mat together. That’s why when you squeeze your soil into a ball, it stays in a clump. Sandy soils, on the other hand, are low in nutrient content and are much more difficult to improve.

Another 35 to 45 percent of the soil sample is a mixture of water and air. These two occupy all the spaces between the mineral particles. Because we have a clay-based soil, these spaces are extremely small, and that’s why our soil doesn’t drain easily. Think of sand, whose particles are big. The spaces in between the sand particles are huge and that’s why sandy soils drain so quickly. It’s like putting water through a colander: One with a few big holes will drain a lot faster than one with hundreds of very tiny holes.

The rest of the soil sample (1 to 6 percent) is organic matter. Unfortunately, this tiny percentage is the most important part of your soil. Organic matter is derived from dead and decaying plant and animal matter. It is pretty much anything that was once alive.

This organic matter binds your soil particles together and changes the way they aggregate, or clump. It gets in between the clay particles and separates them, holding them apart on the microscopic level and allowing water to drain more easily through them by opening larger channels. Organic matter is high in nutrients and is a wonderful source of food for your plants. It’s the primary food source for the beneficial soil microbes that break it down into elements your plants can readily use to grow.

So, if you want good soil in your backyard, you’ve got to add organic matter … and lots of it: compost, humus, well-rotted cow or horse manure, mushroom soil, decomposed leaves or leaf mould. Top soil purchased in bags or by the truck is not organic matter. Work organic matter into your garden on a regular basis; twice yearly, if possible. I add at least 3 inches of some type of organic matter to all my gardens every year. In the vegetable garden, you can till it into the soil every spring. In flower and shrub beds and borders, use it as a mulch by adding it to the top of the soil.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners� at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control� and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.� Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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