What is the best way to water plants? (With what?)

The last two posts were on the topic of water. As we move into the hottest part of the year, this post continues that theme, kicking off a five-part series on how to effectively water plants.

“What should you water plants with?” may seem like a silly question. With water, of course! But not all water is the same.

Typically, we water our plants by connecting a hose or sprinkler system to a spigot and drawing from municipal water supplies. This water has chemicals added to it, including chlorine to kill germs and fluoride to promote dental health. Whether these chemicals are actually good for people is still a topic of debate, but it is generally agreed they are not good for plants.

Plants do better with chemical-free rainwater, which also happens to be less expensive than municipal water. All we need to do is catch and store the rain as it arrives. A single rain barrel, connected to a downspout, can collect many gallons of water in a single rainfall.

Over the next few weeks, That Blog will cover other aspects of how to water plants, and then look at plants that may not need to be watered at all.

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What is the best way to water plants? (With what?)

What is this week?

Recognizing the importance of trees in our neighborhoods, the city of Madison has declared the coming week to be Arbor Week. The following resolution was adopted last month:

 

WHEREAS, the City of Madison has been a Tree City USA for 28 years; and

WHEREAS, children and youth living in greener neighborhoods are healthier; and

WHEREAS, trees give us oxygen, clean the air, and filter air pollutants; and

WHEREAS, trees in our neighborhoods increase property values; and

WHEREAS, the continued planting and care of trees in our city shall provide the same benefits for the present and future residents of Madison.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor of the City of Madison, Wisconsin, does hereby proclaim the week of April 30 through May 6, 2017 as ARBOR WEEK in the City of Madison, and urges everyone able to observe this week to plant trees and to participate in programs that the sponsors of Arbor Week may provide.

What is this week?

What is a tree worth?

There are several ways of answering this question.

First, as described in an earlier post, a mature tree can add thousands of dollars to the value of a property, in addition to saving the occupants money on utility bills.

Second, trees provide measurable value to a city through their role in absorbing and filtering stormwater, cleaning the air, and improving human health. New York City has calculated that its street trees are worth $122 million a year, and that every dollar spent on improving this urban forest generates a return of $5.60.

Third, a recent study found that adding ten trees to a city block produces benefits to the health of nearby residents that are equivalent to giving those residents an extra $10,000 a year of household income.

Urban trees have also been found to decrease childhood obesity, improve ADHD symptoms, deter crime, reduce traffic accidents, improve memory, speed recovery from illness, and even lower the rates of suicides and premature births.

Trees are usually the last thing to be considered in development projects, getting treated as nice-to-have amenities that are added at the end if there’s any money and space left. Experts on urban trees, however, say that the presence of trees in our neighborhoods is crucial to our wellbeing. Their true value, these experts say, is effectively incalculable.

What is a tree worth?

What are pesticides? #2

As a previous post explained, pesticides are chemicals formulated to kill living organisms. They are usually intended to kill insects, rodents, weeds, or fungi. But, these were not their original targets.

During World War II, many scientists built their careers on inventing weapons to harm enemy combatants. The most famous of these weapons was the nuclear bomb, but many chemical weapons were also devised during this period.

After the war, as has been documented by Naomi Oreskes and other journalists, some of these scientists went on to deny the link between smoking and cancer, the existence of human-caused climate change, and other serious public health issues. Meanwhile, others wondered what to do with chemical weapons during peacetime.

Soon, they hit on an idea: reformulate chemicals intended to kill humans, and market them as products for killing household pests.

Contrary to common belief, the US government does not require pesticides to be proven safe before they can be sold to the public. In fact, many of the components of pesticides have not been tested at all for their effects on human health. Many of those that have been tested have been found to cause cancer.

It should not be surprising that chemicals developed to harm humans still harm humans when they are reformulated into a watered-down version. Still, most people do not follow safety precautions – such as wearing protective clothing and not spraying more than needed – when using pesticides.

By using pesticides carefully, or by not using them at all, we can protect our own health and that of our neighbors.

What are pesticides? #2

Where does food come from?

We all have to eat. Some people, however, believe that the production of food is unsightly, and should take place far away.

Perhaps this is part of why food in America travels an average of 1,500 miles from where it is produced to where it is eaten. It is also why a woman in Michigan was threatened with jail time for growing vegetables in her yard.

While centralized food production does allow for economies of scale, transportation is expensive, and fruits and vegetables lose a lot of their flavor and nutrition during the journey. By growing edible plants at home, we can enjoy better-quality food while paying less than we would at the supermarket.

Growing food at home also gives us an opportunity to limit how much pesticide is on our produce, to enjoy the health benefits associated with gardening, and to teach children about healthy eating.

It’s also popular in Madison – many people have fruit trees or vegetable gardens in their yards, or are raising chickens as a source of eggs. Those who’d like to help provide local food for others can apply to plant an Edible Landscape on city-owned land. And those who don’t have a yard of their own can obtain a community garden plot, though currently all 61 of Madison’s community gardens have waiting lists!

The next few posts on That Blog will look at different strategies for producing food in our own yards.

Where does food come from?

How do shovels compare to snowblowers?

From an environmental perspective, the answer is clear: Snowblowers consume fossil fuels that contribute to global warming, while shovels are powered by carbon-neutral human labor.

From a health perspective, the answer is a little more complicated. The strenuous physical effort involved in shoveling can cause heart attacks. For this reason, some people choose the easier task of walking behind a snowblower.

However, the exhaust from snowblowers can also contribute to heart attacks. While the person operating the snowblower gets the heaviest dose of fumes, other people nearby also breathe in the unhealthy exhaust, so their risk of heart attack goes up too.

Similarly, both the person operating the snowblower and other people in the neighborhood are negatively affected by the snowblower’s noise.

What is the most appropriate technology for clearing snow? One part of the answer is to consider how much snow really needs to be cleared. This question will be the topic of the next post.

How do shovels compare to snowblowers?

What are the health effects of noise?

Many people move to the suburbs looking for peace and quiet. Unfortunately, over the past few decades suburbs have become increasingly noisy places to live. Much of this noise comes from yard equipment.

Noise is not often discussed as a health issue. However, it is known that noisy conditions cause stress. Human beings are very resilient, and adapt to most kinds of stressful conditions. However, evidence suggests that people do not adapt to noise: they continue to be stressed by it until the noise stops. Stress from any cause is a risk factor for heart attacks.

How loud is yard equipment? A gas-powered push mower can exceed 100 decibels – loud enough to cause hearing damage over time. And the noise carries: a person mowing a quarter-acre lawn can be heard across 100 acres of neighborhood.

Replacing motorized mowers and blowers with unmotorized equipment would help to restore the quiet neighborhoods suburbanites are looking for. Replacing lawns with native plants would go one step further, offering us the musical chirping of birds instead of the roar of machines.

What are the health effects of noise?