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Archives for November 20, 2015

Made in Detroit

Still, amid weed-filled lots and crumbling facades, the sheer amount of land available to be turned into community space, housing, small businesses, and even urban farms is unprecedented in a modern American city. Against the backdrop of a so-called Detroit renaissance that’s attracting more development and activity, mostly in specific neighborhoods such as Midtown, scores of artists, activists, nonprofits, and urban farmers are finding creative ways to tap into the land’s potential. They’re activating vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and foreclosed homes, working in the wake of dedicated community activists who have long pushed to transform these spaces to benefit their neighborhoods. Detroit faces a thicket of challenges right now, but many see the potential of this vacant land to catalyze Detroit’s future growth.


“Want to live in the country 10 minutes from the city? Here we have it.”

Jeff Klein opened his gardening supply store, Detroit Farm and Garden, three years ago in a former police precinct-turned-gallery and commercial space in the near southwest side. A landscape architect who has helped design and develop a series of pocket parks in North Corktown, a neighborhood opposite the site of the old Detroit Tigers stadium, Klein has witnessed the rapid growth of Detroit’s urban agriculture scene over the past 14 years. “There’s no change, and lots of change.” In some ways, that’s true—at its outset, the city was lined with strips of tended fields, called ribbon farms, connected to the Detroit River, and modern urban farmers have tilled the city’s soil since midcentury. But a new generation of farmers have begun to reclaim urban space at a much faster pace. One estimate puts total production last year at 400,000 pounds of produce in the city alone, and according to Gary Wozniak, president of the economic development agency RecoveryPark, that’s just scratching the surface of the potential market. Within a 300-mile radius of downtown Detroit, there are 49 million people who spend $17 billion annually on fresh produce. Only 18 percent of that is locally sourced.

A Michigan Urban Farming Institute farm in Detroit.

The variety of urban farming groups in Detroit is impressive. Nonprofit Keep Growing Detroit, founded in 1989, supports more than 1,400 farms and gardens across the city, and a score of new organizations and projects have broken ground or been announced over the last few months. Hantz Woodlands, which has planted roughly 20,000 trees on a 140-acre plot on the east side of the city near the Indian Village development, seeks to grow a sustainable business from rows of oaks, maples, poplars, and birch. Saplings can be sold for landscaping, and the wood can later be sold for craft projects and eventually lumber. According to Hantz Farm President Michael Score, the $6 million it took to turn a tangle of brush, illegal dumping, and abandoned houses into a timber farm was a successful investment they’d make 10 times over across Detroit.

“It’s both sustainable agriculture and a way to make the city more livable,” he says. “We’re just the first people to think about it this way. A garden is a great thing, and does the same thing, but it just makes a few buildings more livable. We’re taking out a square mile of blight with this farm, that’s novel, and we’re using agriculture so it pays for itself going forward.”

For Hantz, it’s about picking the right crop (“if we grew broccoli, we would have lost a fortune”).  Mixed hardwoods offer easy maintenance and solid return as opposed to, say, a greenhouse full of orchids. The right mix of crops is also a serious concern for RecoveryPark, a $15 million dollar, 60-acre project that will be based at the currently defunct Chene-Ferry Market. Part of the plan, designed by Dan Pitera of the University of Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), would reclaim a massive, 30,000-square-foot derelict marketplace near a former commercial strip in the Poletown neighborhood and turn it into a cooperative farming enterprise. Abandoned since 1990, the shell of a community space will become an urban farm that provides job training assistance.

The Packard Plant, a massive former automobile manufacturing facility and long a symbol of blight in the city, was purchased in 2013 by Spanish developer Fernando Palazuelo, who plans to redevelop the 3.5 million-square-feet site.

“Thing is, the Coliseum in Rome is actually blight,” Pitera says. “We need to figure out how we can use places like this market, or the Packard Plant, that provide a benefit and celebrate our recent past.”

RecoveryPark speaks to the optimism that seems embedded in the recently redeveloped soil of Detroit’s urban agriculture. Farmers and gardeners alike see it as a means to provide not just food, but employment and community development, a city cure-all. Wozniak shares the optimism, but grounds it in spreadsheets, scalability, and profit projections. For him and RecoveryPark, it’s about exploiting a niche: with a focus on growing dozens of specialty vegetables in hoop houses and hydroponic greenhouses, which are usually flown in from California, Mexico, or further afield, his organization can cut out the transport cost, decrease spoilage, and turn a profit (they already supply buzzed-about local restaurants, including Selden Standard and Gold Cash Gold). A 10- to 15-acre farm with this kind of focus scales up and makes economic sense in a way a smaller city plot—or trying to grow acres of cash crops such as corn, soybeans, or wheat in an urban environment—doesn’t. 

A Michigan Urban Farming Institute farm in Detroit.

“We’re a for-profit business investing $15 million in capital infrastructure that will create a tax base for the city of Detroit that hasn’t seen taxes on this land in 60 years and create 100 new jobs,” he says. “This gets people moving into the community and supports restaurants. Why wouldn’t that be a good use of the land? Nobody else is using it now.”

The Afterhouse project, at right, seeks to construct a geothermal greenhouse in Detroit that would simulate a Mediterranean climate.

In a similar vein, smaller scale startups, colorful offshoots of the urban agriculture movement, have also attempted to resolve urban issues. Afterhouse, a collaborative project between Abigail Murray, Steven Mankouche and the Archolab collective, seek to add a geothermal greenhouse to a burnt-out building on Burnside Street. Obsessed with gardening but depressed by the short growing season, the group decided to, in effect, create a Mediterranean climate in Michigan by digging out a semi-subterranean greenhouse. Wrapped in walls of heat-absorbing ceramic tiles, then covered in a facade of charred timber siding and a roof of polycarbonate plastic, the passive greenhouse, set to add soil next month and start planting, may soon sprout olives, mangoes, pomegranates, and potentially bananas, and perhaps become a new way to utilize blighted properties.

“The size of the house isn’t about making high-yield profit,” says Mankouche. “it’s more about producing food for people living on that block. In a way, what we’re doing is more of an art and agriculture project than a practical food growing project. We’re proposing something that’ll belong to a few individuals. Big architecture does not solve big problems. We’re trying to say, maybe if people did small projects that are more civic in nature, they could reach out to more people. We’re thinking of work that’s on a more domestic scale.”

The Afterhouse project hopes to add soil and begin planting next month.

At a site a little more than a mile away, florist Lisa Waud had a similar epiphany that led to her Flower House project. A wildly successful series of floral installations inside a pair of abandoned homes, which Waud picked up for $500 in an auction, the Flower House reimagines the abandoned buildings as eye-catching displays.”It’s every florist’s dream of filling an old bathtub with flowers,” says Waud.

But the installations aren’t her end goal. The proceeds from her two events will help fund the deconstruction of the buildings, which will be turned into a flower farm Waud will use to supply her full-time business, Pot Box. (Archolab may also provide a greenhouse for Waud’s new venture.) She believes the market for locally grown peonies and dahlias can be just as robust as the one for local food.

While Afterhouse and Flower House offer creative and captivating spins on urban agriculture and horticulture, they don’t address some of the key challenges facing the movement: scale and profitability. Growing isn’t easy for small enterprises, and scaling up to become independent and self-sustaining (if that happens to be the goal) can be challenging.

A Michigan Urban Farming Institute farm in Detroit.

“You need to grow the passion and go through some lean times,” says Will Allen, a former NBA player turned noted urban farming expert who spoke of the great value of expanding urban agriculture in Detroit (his Milwaukee-based Growing Power has 300 acres under cultivation). “It’s not something that’s guaranteed. Sometimes you’re better going to Vegas with your money instead of putting it to seed.”

Near Klein’s work in North Corktown, ACRE Farms, a one-acre plot kitty corner to a youth hostel, showcases the small end of the urban farming boom and many of the issues Allen pointed out. Farmers and friends Ryan Anderson and Hannah Clark, sick of working day jobs in Washington D.C. and Chicago, respectively, decided to move to Detroit in 2011 to start an urban farm. They’ve transformed a city lot into a decent-sized operation sporting okra, eggplants, kale, and more, with a “city do not cut” sign in the middle of their plot, so municipal workers won’t accidentally mistake their vegetables for overgrowth. Over the last few years, they’ve managed to cultivate enough crops to supply a handful of local restaurants and start a CSA program, but still receive some grant funding. They don’t have fences; Clark says they like root vegetables, because people don’t take as much of their food. Anderson says when they run into people taking their food, they’ll usually stop after being told that “these plants are his livelihood.”

The Dequindre Cut. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Detroit’s so-called empty spaces can also be the site of bigger, broader experiments designed  to knit together the landscape or provide shared spaces for the community. For the last few years, designer and creative director Jane Schulak has organized Culture Lab Detroit, a creative summit at which artists, architects, and others brainstorm ideas for developing Detroit. At this year’s event in September, the focus was on utilizing green spaces, with participants, among them Allen, architect Sou Fujimoto, chef Alice Waters, landscape architect Walter Hood, and vertical garden pioneer Patric Blanc, discussing different prospects and proposals, such as Blanc’s idea of creating a series of vertical gardens amid the Dequindre Cut, a former railway turned public pathway.

Concepts like these can be key community builders.”If Sou Fujimoto builds a teahouse downtown, or Patric Blanc creates an urban garden, it’s bringing high art to Detroit and connecting the community,” Schulak says.

As challenging as it can be developing on empty ground, figuring out how to utilize abandoned, blighted property can prove even more difficult. The roughly 40,000 foreclosed homes and abandoned commercial buildings in the city, many relics of when the city’s population exceeded two million (it’s now at 700,000) can be a neighborhood eyesore. But they also represent a loss in revenue, upkeep issues, and a problem of disposal for numerous Detroit neighborhoods.

Read more:
Detroit Distilled: How the City’s Modern Past Could Inspire Its Future
30-Year-Old Folk Art Project Remains a Constant in a Changing Detroit

Popular wisdom says sustainable, self-reinforcing urban development can’t happen with so much empty or unused space between homes, stores, and buildings. According to an analysis of property by D3, that’s mostly true. Stable neighborhoods, such as Avenue of Fashion and Grand River/Southfield, are still relatively dense. But Corktown, which has grown the most between 2009 and 2013, according to DCI metrics, is actually not terribly dense, and Midtown, an area celebrated for a boom in business development, is actually less dense due to the recent closing of public housing projects.

The city’s successful Side Lots Program, which began late last year under new mayor Mike Duggan, has been a big driver for redevelopment, according to Monique Tate, a longtime community activist in the MorningSide neighborhood. The city provides undeveloped property to the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which then sells off the property for $100 to homeowners in the adjacent lots. So far, the program has returned thousands of properties to the tax rolls and productive use. Tate has seen lots in her neighborhood be used for community spaces, even a playground.

Empty lots in Detroit.

“As soon as it becomes available, most people take it and try to stake a claim,” she says. “Staking personal space has been a very positive aspect. And it provides opportunity across the socioeconomic spectrum.”

The Side Lots Program is just a part of Duggan’s plan to deal with the city’s raft of blighted, abandoned properties. A concentrated blight removal effort has destroyed more than 7,000 buildings in the last 18 months. Duggan has come under fire for the rising cost of the program (the average demo price has increased by 60 percent, from $10,000 to roughly $16,000 per house), as well as overpriced “set” bids for demolitions from construction firms and contractors. The recent high-profile departure of the DLBA’s former chief Kevin Simowski, a friend of Duggan who was accused of coming to work drunk and stalking a co-worker, hasn’t helped. But long-time activists have praised the administration’s recent flurry of activity. John J. George, who founded Motor City Blight Busters in 1987 after he and a few neighbors, frustrated by uncontested criminal activity on his block, boarded up a crackhouse in their neighborhood, praises the Mayor’s strategy of assisting community groups on the front line, and helping empower them to do the work of tearing down unwanted buildings.

“Are things better? Absolutely,” he says. “We need to continue to get rid of the stuff we don’t want. Any time you ask for something, like demolitions, to be faster, it’s going to cost more. And now, they’re doing things more safely. You’ll see lead and asbestos people out there in white spacesuits at these properties. Doing more homes and doing them faster may cost $15,000 to $16,000 for a medium-sized house; I have no problem with that.”

Repurposing vacant Detroit lots into an art gallery through the Alley Project.

The demolitions have also racked up demonstrated results, according to a recent study by the Skillman Foundation. The report, “Estimating Home Equity Impact from Rapid, Targeted Residential Demolition in Detroit,” says, not surprisingly, that homes within 500 feet of demolished property are seeing their value increase by 4.3 percent, while the hardest-hit neighborhoods are seeing overall property values jump by 13.8 percent.  Another study, the Detroit Demolition Impact Report, says recent demolition work has had a $209 million impact on home equity.

“I think the Land Bank Authority and the new mayor have really tried to get at the issue with the Side Lot program,” says Sylvia Tatman-Burruss, a data analyst at D3. “It really allows vacant land to be used in different ways for different neighborhoods.”

An empty lot in Detroit.

While the pace of blight removal has accelerated, there are still so many dilapidated homes to break down and cart away. Just ask Craig Fahle, Director of Public Affairs of the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA), to review his organization’s property roll. The DLBA is tasked with turning the tide and selling city property. With a quarter of the land in Detroit under its control, the task is daunting. The agency’s catalog currently includes 22,351 residential structures, 54,669 residential lots, 1,541 vacant commercial lots, 207 commercial structures, and 19 industrial structures. Fahle takes the long view, seeing steady progress in reactivating vacant land, stabilizing neighborhoods, and getting more banks to make loans. Last year, of the 4,500 total home sales in the city, only 450 of them had a mortgage attached; that figure is, in effect, a referendum on the valuation of Detroit land.

“We’re doing a good job of selling, but compared to the number we’re taking in (he expects 7,000 more properties in January), it’s going to be a bit skewed,” he says. “It took the city 40 to 50 years to get here. We won’t get everything back in a few years. The payoff for this will come.”

The Packard Plant.

Scores of new owners and entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the situation and created new businesses or projects. A new manufacturing center and food processing space is set to begin construction in Eastern Market to serve as an incubator for small businesses. A Spanish developer who purchased the iconic, hulking ruins of the Packard Plant, a derelict, multi-block manufacturing facility, plans to begin turning it into a mixed-use development.

At Ponyride, an entrepreneurship hub in Corktown, a neighborhood just west of downtown, co-founder and serial entrepreneur Phil Cooley (who also owns Slows BBQ) has helped create a space that provides low rents to social entrepreneurs, a “space for Detroiters to create their own narratives.” Within a former foreclosed warehouse, he’s helped build a community of businesses, from the Empowerment Plan, which employs formerly homeless women to make jackets, to Detroit Denim, one of only a handful of domestic jean manufacturers in the United States. It’s considered a model of turning the foreclosure crisis on its head.

The Packard Plant.

But just across the street sits a hulking, concrete beast, a massive, crumbling structure sitting vacant and unused. According to Cooley, the empty warehouse is the property of Matty Moroun, “Detroit’s own Montgomery Burns,” and a sad symbol of how some are holding the city back. “Pieces of the facade and razor wire keep falling off onto our property,” says Cooley. “He keeps it empty like there’s a waiting list to get in.”

Moroun and his family are notorious for owning, and not developing, nearby Michigan Central Station, the city’s equivalent to Grand Central, which has been sitting undeveloped for decades (the Morouns just added new windows after the city plied them with a deal that promised additional land for development).  Held up as the poster children for greedy, out-of-town developers, the Morouns, who live in expensive suburbans homes north of the city, are emblematic, perhaps, of the impact the suburbs have on Detroit’s development. According to George C. Galster, an urban affairs professor at Wayne State University and author of Driving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in Motown, the vacant land, the lack of development, all spring from what he calls “a giant sucking sound” from the suburbs.

A Michigan Urban Farming Institute farm in Detroit.

“To understand vacant land in Detroit is to understand why it’s there,” he says, “why the forces at play are still creating the issue. The force is the vast majority of buildings still being created on the suburban fringes. We’ve created a perpetual excess of housing in the region.”

For the last 60 years, he says, Detroit has created an average of 10,000 excess dwellings a year, mostly in north suburban areas such as wealthy Oakland County. When people vacate land, they move up to the next best housing option in a chain of moves that often leaves the least valuable (i.e. inner-city) homes empty. While some areas of the city, such as Midtown, the southwest (an area with a burgeoning Mexican population), and stable older neighborhoods are doing well, the vast remainder of Detroit has seen population and value hemorrhage for the last five decades. While there are many bright spots, plans and projects that have started to make a dent in the staggering amount of open space in the city will need to be expanded to make a serious dent in the issue.

“Suburban property developers don’t care what happens in Detroit,” Galster says. “All these efforts to knock down blighted buildings to make areas more attractive, and more blight will grow back next year. Until somebody deals with the cause of the problem, the city of Detroit will constantly fight this rear-guard action, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

· Made in Detroit archive [Curbed]

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Small Houses Will Continue Going Up Along 101 Freeway in Santa Barbara


The little houses popping up along Highway 101 in Santa Barbara won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. The low-income apartments are being built on the site of the Sycamore Creek Mobile Home Park, between the Milpas and Salinas exits.

The Punta Gorda housing project was approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development, so it did not need city approval.

Mayor Helene Schneider told NewsChannel 3 that she wrote a letter to state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson asking for the project to be stopped because it is unsightly and possibly unhealthy being so close to the freeway.

Jackson responded to Schneiders’ letter Friday morning, saying, “We have no authority to stop the project currently underway.”

While there is nothing Jackson can do, she said, she is working with the developer to add some landscaping for screening purposes.

Here is the full statement released by state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara and Assembly Member Das Williams D-Caprinteria:

Jackson said: “I understand the very serious community concerns surrounding the Punta Gorda manufactured housing project in Santa Barbara. At a time when affordable housing is a critical need, it is also important that projects are undertaken in a manner that is conducive to community support. Due to a state law passed decades ago, local communities have little to no say in the design review of these kind of housing projects in mobile home parks. My office is researching what the state Department of Housing and Community Development could do to support greater local input in these projects going forward. We have no authority to stop the project currently underway, and I look forward to continuing to work with the community and cooperatively with the developer on issues surrounding the landscaping and other considerations to help minimize its visual impact. I look forward to working collaboratively with the Mayor and the City of Santa Barbara to address these issues in the future.”

Williams said: “My office has been engaged on this issue for several months, as our constituents have reached out with concerns,” said Williams. “Understanding that manufactured home parks are approved and permitted by CA Housing and Community Development, and not local governments, we reached out to the builder, architect, and landscape architect for this project to connect them with these concerned citizens. My office conducted a site visit with the builder and constituents, and the builder committed to augmenting landscaping plans with more trees for screening purposes. There are also plans to take community input on final paint colors for the homes, so that they blend in to the surroundings more easily. I have also encouraged several concerned folks to give us their legislative ideas for changes to regulations governing this kind of project, and have received nothing back at this point. I also welcome specific legislative proposals from the Mayor and the City of Santa Barbara.”

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Wildlife biologist: Why non-lethal means rarely work to control deer numbers

To kill, or not to kill.

It’s the focal point of heated discussions going on lately in several Central New York suburban and urban communities as they begin, or are considering deer herd culling programs. In all cases, residents complain about the same three things – rising incidences of Lyme disease, deer/motor vehicle accidents and unacceptable damage to gardens and landscaping.

A herd of deer grazing on the front lawn of a home on Scott Avenue in the Bradford Hills section of Syracuse 

Hamilton is scheduled to begin baiting and killing deer Dec. 23, using a bait and kill program with archers. Fayetteville is voting on a similar plan Monday night. Syracuse officials for the past few years have been talking and mulling their options as frustrated residents on the city’s east side await a solution.

Brian Underwood, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist at SUNY ESF and long-time deer researcher, has been attending and speaking at public meetings on deer issues across the Northeast since 1990. He spoke recently at Nottingham High School at a meeting hosted by the city of Syracuse.

Underwood said to make any sort of impact on a deer herd in a community – to just maintain the status quo – at least 40 percent of the does need to be removed annually. He said a healthy doe on the average drops two to sometimes three fawns each year.

“Typically, it’s going to require more than one method to successfully resolve issues with deer on landscapes as big as Syracuse’s east side communities and elsewhere,” he said. “It’s a pretty standard script. There’s always a similar progression of ideas and thoughts in deciding what to do about the deer. Everyone has to go through the process and wrestle with the issues. There’s only so many ways you can do this.”

In a recent interview, Underwood discussed why, in his opinion and in his experience, non-lethal measures alone often don’t work when it comes to controlling deer numbers – particularly in areas where deer are free to come and go. He addressed approaches that are frequently voiced at public meetings.

Why don’t we just trap and relocate these animals to somewhere else – say the Adirondacks — where they can roam freely?

This is often a knee-jerk reaction. The DEC or any other fish and wildlife department are dead set against transferring wildlife from one area to another. One reason is for the safety of the animals. They are unfamiliar with where they’re being placed and studies have shown that their survival rate is often low. The biggest reason this is unacceptable , though, is the possibility of introducing chronic wasting disease and other deadly transmittable diseases from one area to another. Finally, it’s not easy to trap deer – and often the strain of the process will hurt or kill them.

Three deer in front of a house on the east side of Syracuse. 

Well, why don’t you just dart them with a tranquilizer and relocate them?
No, for the same reasons that trapping and relocating them won’t work. In addition, when you tranquilize deer, it’s very risky. Often you’ll end hurting or killing the animals despite your best intentions. Some deer struggle so much when they’re tranquilized that they’ll die later from “white muscle” disease, which is a degradation of the muscles from struggling so much. Wild deer don’t take well to captivity, even for a short period of time. You then let them go and often they’ll be dead two weeks later out in the wild.

Why not just encourage residents or property owners to plant things that deer won’t eat and then they’ll go away?

“That may solve part of the problem, but not all. Sure, they dine on tulips and gardens. But deer will subsist on grass if they have to. That’s happening right now off the Beltway in Washington, D.C. Once they’ve come to your neighborhood, there’s not much you can do to prevent deer from living there, short of paving your yard. You’re not going to keep deer from establishing home ranges because you’ve planted food that they don’t like. Instead, of your yard being a breakfast table, it’ll end up being a deer’s bedroom.”

Why don’t the people who don’t like the deer put up high fences to keep them out?

Sometimes fences can work on small parcels, such as around gardens. But when everyone starts building fences around everything, bad things happen. Most zoning boards have height restrictions for fences on property. The bottom line is you’re not solving the problem. You’re just shunting it from one area to the next.

What about using dogs to chase the deer to keep them out of urban or suburban areas?

Certain businesses have effectively used trained border collies, for example, on corporate lawns to keep the deer and geese off. It might work on a single property, a small group of properties or in a cemetery. But the cost would be ridiculously high for a whole community, and you’d have deer running back and forth. This would undoubtedly result in a spike in deer/motor vehicle accidents.

What about allowing Mother Nature to do her thing and reintroduce coyotes or wolves – the so-called natural predators — to take care of the deer?

The coyotes are already here. And if folks are uncomfortable with coyotes in their backyards, they’re not going to want to have wolves hanging around. The reality is the biggest predator of deer in urban and suburban areas right now are humans with their cars and trucks – and obviously they’re not stabilizing or bringing down the herd size to acceptable numbers.

What about using birth control or simply sterilizing them?

This has been tried, and in some cases it’s worked. On individual animals, in particular, it’s highly effective. However, as the population of deer you’re dealing with grows and the area you’re dealing with is large, those things tend to erode the efficiency of these approaches. There are all sorts of cost and logistical problems – among them new deer wondering into the targeted area.

I was involved in a project using anti-fertility drugs for 17 years on an island off the coast of Long Island. One of the big problems was getting access to all the females. Some were easy to get, others were extremely hard to find and dart. The birth control drugs are not all that expensive, but they do have to be injected annually. The big cost is you’re paying for someone’s time. On top of that, you won’t really start seeing an impact on a big herd for five or 10 years — and most communities don’t want to wait that long.

As for sterilization, the same time frame applies. Although sterilization is much more expensive than using anti-fertility drugs, you only have to use it once. So in the long run, the cost will be about the same. The problem once again, is capturing all the deer to perform the operation.

One final thing, why do deer have to be killed in these culling programs using bows, crossbows or firearms? Why not try an approach that is more humane, such as darting them with a drug that puts them asleep and kills them painlessly?

What is humane varies from individual to individual. I’m not going to get into that. As for the use of darting deer with lethal drugs, that’s often not considered for one big reason. Folks want to see the meat used and often that means donating it to local food pantries and giving some of it to the individuals who are taking the deer out. Using a lethal drug would contaminate the meat, rendering it unusable.

Hunters from Upstate NY share deer photos

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Understanding our desert’s Apache plume

Forest Service botanists discovered apache plume survived a camp fire built directly over the roots of a dormant plant. This was an important example of this desert native’s unique relationship with fire throughout the Southwest, its massive habitat. They knew it survived because the following spring that dormant plant rose from the ashes into a vigorous thicket, just as plants in the wild do after wildfire.

I saw my first Fallugia paradoxa at the Living Desert years ago and have been intrigued by the species ever since. My own experiences with apache plume in my Palm Springs garden proved this is one of the best plants for rural homesites around the valley and high desert. Its rangy and rough looking much of the year but when the small white or pink flowers go to seed there are beautiful fruiting structures that resemble the Apache war bonnet, hence the common name. It’s these fluffy seed heads that give it such a light and lacy character particularly when back lit by a low morning or evening sun.

Its natural habitat is along dry washes and gravelly slopes of high desert from 3,500 to 8,000 feet with significant cold hardiness to 0°F that is ideal for all upper elevation communities. However, this plant is clearly happy in the sandy low deserts from here to Texas, southward into Mexico. What this tells us is that Apache plume is able to take blowing sand and dune build up on the windward side. Its natural drought resistance, dense internal growth and seasonal interest make this a good candidate for wind belt landscaping, informal hedges and boundary planting.

Though Apache plume is tough and drought tolerant it looks best with moderate drip irrigation which encourages more foliage growth and flowering. Occasional removal of dead twigs is helpful too. Many Southwestern tribes utilized these twigs, valued for their straight growth and density for arrow shafts and household tools. Such branch strength is an important means of withstanding sustained high winds.

Though Apache plume can take direct sun most of the time, in the low desert it looks best with protection from hot afternoon sun during the summer months. For this reason utilize structures, walls, trees and hedges protect your plumes’ west side on the valley floor.

As stated earlier, there’s another value for Apache plume based on its unique root survival. This is an outstanding example of plants that help to hold slopes after fires move through. View home sites up on the foothills of the Coachella Valley and High Desert are vulnerable to soil erosion under normal conditions. Plant Apache plume on these unstable slopes to bind soil and to keep it bound if a wildfire or even a house fire results in loss of soil holding landscape plants.

Peripheral home sites with lots of wildlife value will also benefit from this shrub because it is dense to the ground providing excellent cover for cooling shade and protection for rodents and quail from birds of prey. Spaces beneath such shrubby plants are among their favorite nesting sites.

Designers take advantage of the Apache plume foliage color, small leaves, dark green on one side and white on the opposite. This creates a neutral yet dense background for architectural cacti and succulents. Such a background creates a mass that is large enough to help subtly define spaces and cover unattractive utilities such as a well pressure tank or pool equipment.

Above all this is one of the finest locally native shrubs for desert gardens of all kinds. Grow each shrub as an individual and provide a lot of space because at maturity it reaches 6 feet tall and four feet wide or more. It’s ideal for blending with our native desert shrubs such as brittlebush Encelea farinosa, fairy dusters Caliandra spp. and feathery senna Cassiaartemisioides for large scale landscapes with minimal irrigation on locally soils.

While Apache plume isn’t always suitable to highbrow gardens, it is among the most underestimated plants for home sites outside country clubs and neighborhoods. Whether you live in Sky Valley, 1000 Palms or Yucca Valley, let these lovely war bonnets solve problems and add native beauty where less rugged fellows fear to tread.

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Vandals plague Carlsbad’s new community garden – The San Diego Union

— There’s an especially frustrating pest plaguing Carlsbad’s newest community garden. Along with the rodents, rabbits and insects that gardeners must contend with, vandals have become an increasing problem at the Calavera Hills location.

It started with someone taking the occasional ripe vegetable, such as a pumpkin a child had cultivated and looked forward to picking, organizers said. In recent weeks, however, thieves have stolen garden hoses, irrigation timers, wire screens and other equipment, and have cut through wire mesh to get into the raised garden beds to steal the plants.

“It’s been an ongoing problem,” said Dorinda Moore, a spokeswoman for Carlsbad Community Garden Collaborative. “Lately, it has gotten serious to where there has been major destruction. We need some help.”

November 17, 2015_Carlsbad, California_USA_| At the Calavera Schoolhouse Community Garden Ron Kramer goes in the garden’s tool box shared by garden members. It’s kept locked. There have been cases of vandalism there recently. |_Mandatory Photo Credit: Photo by Charlie Neuman/San Diego Union-Tribune/©2015 San Diego Union-Tribune, LLCSan Diego Union-Tribune

November 17, 2015_Carlsbad, California_USA_| At the Calavera Schoolhouse Community Garden Ron Kramer goes in the garden’s tool box shared by garden members. It’s kept locked. There have been cases of vandalism there recently. |_Mandatory Photo Credit: Photo by Charlie Neuman/San Diego Union-Tribune/©2015 San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC

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Carlsbad Parks and Recreation Department Director Chris Hazeltine said police are aware of the vandalism and have agreed to assign additional patrols of the area, but there’s little else the city can do.

There is a low fence with a locked gate around the gardens, but the fence is largely ornamental, and a taller fence is out of the question.

“Unfortunately, in public spaces, we deal with vandalism,” Hazeltine said. “It’s like a ball field, a tennis court, or a skate park.”

Still, he said the recent spate of problems is “an exception to the norm” and should not prevent the gardens from being an asset for the community.

Carlsbad’s only other public garden, the Harold E. Smerdu Community Garden near City Hall, has more than 50 spaces and is at least 30 years old.

Calavera Schoolhouse Community Garden opened in April 2014. Moore was one of the first people to lease a plot there, after being on a waiting list for the Smerdu garden for three years. There’s still a one-year wait to get a spot in either of the city’s two public gardens. The city also plans to build a third community garden, expected to open in about two years at Pine Avenue Park.

The Calavera garden, which is on Glasgow Drive beside the Calavera Hills Community Park ball fields, has 27 raised beds, each 4-by-16 feet. A lease is $120 a year.

Some people think the garden’s location near the park might contribute to the vandalism problem. They’ve seen teenage boys coming from the park hop the fence to get in.

People also have seen teens turn on the garden hoses and have quick water battles, then run off and leave the hoses running.

“We suddenly have a group of individuals who see it as a mischievous playground, I guess,” said Lisa Roop, a board member with the garden collaborative. The group works to get grants and donations for the city’s two community gardens, and advocates for more gardens to be created.

Roop said that although vandalism is not an uncommon thing, “with the water loss, it’s destructive mischief, and it’s really sad.”

Some people have suggested the gardeners hire a watchman, but that would be too expensive. Lights and cameras are out because the garden has no electricity. Signs also have been discussed and may be added, but the gardeners said the best solution available to them might be to spread the word about their problem.

Whatever happens, they intend to keep gardening, they said, committed to the benefits — like better nutrition, exercise and companionship — that it provides.

“It’s a hobby,” said Ron Kramer, who has a winter crop of broccoli, cauliflower, Romaine lettuce, rhubarb and celery in his plot. “You’re not going to stop going to the grocery store.”

His garden produces more food than he and his wife can eat, he said, and he gives some of it away.

The Calavera garden includes a section of communal fruit trees, cared for by volunteers, three communal garden beds, compost piles, and a chest full of shared hand tools and a gardening book. It also hosts classes in composting and other gardening or landscaping activities.

Many of the people who lease space in the garden live in apartments or condominiums where they have no space of their own, Roop said.

“In our ever-denser community, this is a needed resource,” she said. “People like to (garden) in a communal setting. It’s a great way to learn, and you become a better gardener like that.”

Mugshot of Phil Diehl

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Should Ann Arbor allow electric fences to keep deer out of gardens?

Ann Arbor’s plan to shoot 100 deer in city parks this winter doesn’t mean deer are going to entirely disappear from the city.

City officials acknowledge there still will be deer around to munch on residents’ landscaping and gardens, including the hostas and lilies some residents complain they’ve been unable to protect.

With that in mind, City Council Member Chuck Warpehoski, D-5th Ward, said this week he’s considering bringing forward ordinance changes to ease fence restrictions in the city, possibly allowing electric fencing around gardens, as well as the use of high-tension wire to increase the height of backyard fences to 10 feet.

“Some people have reported to me that the existing fence ordinance does not give them the tools they need to prevent deer contact with their backyard or their gardens, so I am considering bringing forward amendments,” Warpehoski said.

Ann Arbor City Council Member Chuck Warpehoski wants to ease fence restrictions so residents have more options to keep deer out of their backyards and gardens. Warpehoski said electric fences that deliver a shock could be one way to deter deer, as long as it’s only in backyards and away from property lines.

“Currently, the city does not allow electrified fencing, and I certainly don’t think it is appropriate for property lines or front yards,” he said.

“I do think it could be used appropriately in backyard applications provided there is an adequate setback from the property line. For example, electric fencing not to exceed six feet at least 10 feet from the property line.”

The city code, as it stands now, states: “No fence shall be constructed or maintained which is charged or connected with an electrical current.”

Warpehoski said he has seen people use electric fencing in the city to keep predators away from backyard chickens, so he thinks it can be done without a problem.

Additionally, Warpehoski wants to address the issue of fence height so residents can keep deer from jumping into backyards.

“Our current fence ordinance allows fences up to eight feet at the rear of the site,” he said. “Deer sometimes can jump eight feet.”

In addition to the eight-foot restriction for the rear of residential properties, the city doesn’t allow fences taller than four feet in front yards. And in other areas in the middle of residential properties, fence height is limited to six feet.

The city’s administration raised the issue of fencing in a May 2015 report that included lethal and nonlethal recommendations for deer management.

“Currently, the city ordinance does not permit 10-foot fences, the height required to keep deer out of a yard,” the report states.

Warpehoski said some people probably would be opposed to allowing 10-foot-tall opaque fences, but he thinks there might be some tolerance for adding extra height to fences using high-tension wire that is smooth. He provided an example from the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.

“Some guidelines have an additional two feet of high-tension wire so the deer can’t jump over that, but it doesn’t provide a visual block,” he said.

Ann Arbor’s existing fence restrictions in the city code. Before working with the city attorney’s office on crafting new ordinance language, Warpehoski said he welcomes feedback from residents.

Warpehoski said he already has been working on the issue with 5th Ward resident Vivienne Armentrout, who has been in contact with Christopher Graham, a member of a group called Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance.

Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, which lobbied for culling Ann Arbor’s deer herd, has a page dedicated to fencing on its website.

“Fencing a yard of adequate height to prevent deer is illegal within Ann Arbor,” the website states. “Aside from being unsightly, it just sends deer to someone else’s yard — IT DOES NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. And it can be deadly.”

Next to that paragraph on the website is a photograph of what appears to be a dead deer caught and hanging from wire fencing.

The group’s website discusses electric fencing, specifically what it calls the “peanut butter fence” technique to keep deer away from plants.

The “peanut butter fence” is described as an electric fence wire strung about two and a half feet off the ground, with a piece of foil or aluminum flashing wrapped over the line with peanut butter smeared on it.

“When the deer approaches the landscaping,” the website states, “the smell of the peanut butter attracts the deer to lick it, thereby giving a non-lethal shock to the deer on their tongue.”

The website advocates against having a city of high fences, arguing that would destroy the openness and feel of Ann Arbor.

Armentrout, who lives in northwest Ann Arbor, said she’s been communicating with Warpehoski and she’s glad he’s taking on the fence issues.

She said she struggled for years to keep deer out of her backyard vegetable garden where she grew food such as peppers, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes.

Though she doesn’t have complete fencing around her backyard, Armentrout said she had a roughly five-foot-tall fence around her garden, along with a series of other obstructions, and it wasn’t enough to keep deer away.

Discouraged, she said she finally gave up last year and no longer keeps a vegetable garden, which has been hard because it was a big part of her life.

“It was a major commitment in my life,” she said. “I was growing and I was canning and preserving, and cooking seasonally with the things I was growing. It was something that was very important to me, and I was ultimately defeated.”

Armentrout said she probably won’t go back to having a vegetable garden. She now grows herbs such as sage and thyme, which the deer don’t eat, and a lot of primrose, and she’s had success keeping deer away from her hostas using repellent.

But for people who want to grow vegetables, Armentrout likes the idea of allowing new options such as electric fences.

“Those things usually do not deliver a very strong shock,” she said. “It’s more irritating, I guess, though I haven’t personally experienced them.”

The city conducted an online survey that asked residents if they’ve used fencing to prevent damage to landscaping and how effective it has been. About two thirds of respondents, or 356 people, said they hadn’t used fencing as an option.

Of the 181 respondents who said they had, 22 percent said it was highly effective, 35 percent said it was somewhat effective, and 43 percent said it was not effective.

Some residents have complained homeowners association rules or other restrictions do not allow them to have fences where they live.

Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at

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Tips for indoor water gardening

Lillie Suburban Newspapers

2515 E. Seventh Ave.
North St. Paul, MN 55109
Phone: (651) 777-8800
Fax: (651) 777-8288

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Tips for handling fall pruning and premature sprouting

Q.I have big bluestem in my garden. Should I just let it be for winter?

Should I cut it back in spring?

A. Allow your big bluestem and other grasses stand for winter.

You will enjoy the beauty, sound and movement they add to the winter garden. Cut them back to the base in late winter or early spring once the snow recedes and before new growth begins.

Many beneficial insects use the grass for winter cover and birds eat the seeds of some native and ornamental grasses.

Compost this and other disease-free plant debris removed during spring cleanup.

Q.During fall cleanup I noticed some tulips and crocus were sprouting.

What can I do?

A. Once the ground freezes over, these and any other plantings are subject to early sprouting.

Use evergreen boughs or straw to insulate the plants and stop additional growth during a winter thaw.

You may see some damage to the foliage that has already sprouted and have fewer or no flowers in spring.

But as long as the bulbs have enough stored energy they should survive and provide a nice show the following spring.

Q.I cut back my black-eyed Susan/Orange Coneflower a couple weeks ago.

It has now started to grow again and actually has a few new small flowers on it!

Did I cut it back too soon and, if so, is it likely to not do well next spring?

A. The unusually warm fall weather is to blame. Consider allowing these plants to grow and bloom as long as the weather permits.

Leave this growth stand for winter to increase winter hardiness. Your plants should be fine.

Use the weather forecast, not your calendar, to guide gardening activities whenever possible; although I know our personal schedules often dictate when we can get in the garden.

This is one reason I prefer cutting back perennials in late winter or early spring.

Q.Should I prune my 10-year-old trumpet vine this fall?

Should I cut it back to the ground?

A. If possible, prune in late winter or early spring before growth begins. This way you remove any winter damage or dead wood at the same time.

Plus, the wounds will close more quickly, reducing the risk of disease.

Prune your trumpet vine to maintain the framework of the plant. Remove weak or damaged branches to the main stems or the base of the plant.

Shorten side shoots back to two or three buds from the main framework. You can renovate overgrown vines and those that lack a framework with more severe pruning.

Cut overgrown plants back to 12 inches above the ground. Then start developing a sturdy framework that can be maintained with yearly pruning.

Email questions to Melinda Myers through her website,, or write her at P.O. Box 798, Mukwonago, WI 53149.

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Jack Christensen’s garden tips for the week starting Nov. 21

Wind vs. trees: Keep in mind that we often get wind storms in Southern California around Thanksgiving. If you haven’t already done so and your trees have dense growth, you would be wise now to prune off some of the branches, so the wind can pass through instead of breaking them off.

TLC for citrus trees: Citrus trees need continuous soil moisture as the fruits ripen, so continue irrigating them as necessary. And if you haven’t done so yet, give your trees a proper dose of Grow More Citrus Grower Blend or Tru-Green Citrus Growers Mix, available at many garden centers and home improvement stores. These will dramatically increase the sweetness of your fruit.

Think veggies: Winter vegetables planted in August and September are ready to start harvesting, just in time for the Thanksgiving feast. You could be getting peas, cabbage, broccoli, beets, radishes and more by now. Or you could go ahead and plant now for harvesting in about two months. Plant winter vegetables until late January or possibly early February. After that, plant summer veggies.

Time to transplant: It’s getting cool enough now that you can safely transplant bushes and trees to better spots in your yard. Perhaps some simply aren’t growing very well where they are, and a new location with more sunlight – or less – will make a difference. Be sure to keep as much soil on the roots as possible during this process, and water frequently for about a month to help new roots get established. Roots continue to grow even if a plant is dormant on top.

Colorful hydrangeas: Start treatments now on colored hydrangeas over 3 years old to control or change flower color. The bluest flowers grow on plants in containers with an acid soil mix, maintained by periodically applying a solution of 1/2 ounce aluminum sulfate (not ammonium sulfate) per gallon of water to already dampened soil — now and throughout the year. Flowers turn pink in less acid soils or by applying superphosphate heavily (compared to package instructions) now and in late winter. Treatments must start now in order to make a difference in spring. These products are getting harder to find, but they are both available at Walmart and some retail nurseries.

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