What is a tree spade?

A tree spade is a piece of heavy equipment designed to dig up and move large trees.

Small trees can be dug up and moved by hand, but what is a property owner to do when a mature tree is growing into power lines, standing in the way of a construction project, or casting shade on an area the property owner would prefer to be sunny? Many would respond by pruning the tree, or by destroying it entirely. Often, a better solution is to move it.

Tree spades were invented in the 1800s, and early versions could move trees more than 30 feet tall. Modern-day tree spade operators say they have moved trees well over 100 feet tall, as well as trees with trunks more than 5 feet across.

Tree spade operators don’t really recommend moving trees that large, though, since survival of the transplanted tree depends on whether enough of its root system can be picked up and moved with it. A tree’s root system can be larger than the aboveground part of the tree, but even the biggest tree spades can only dig up a chunk of soil about 7 feet across and 4 feet deep.

Medium-sized trees, though, can be successfully moved, and it is not even very expensive to do so – especially when compared against the cost of destroying the tree, including the loss of the services that a relocated tree could have gone on providing for many years.

By creatively rearranging our yards, we can have room for everything we want, while respecting the needs of many species.

What is a tree spade?

How often does a lawn need to be mowed?

The average American spends about 25 hours a year mowing their lawn. That’s about 25 mowings that take 1 hour each.

Of course, this is an average that includes Americans in southern Florida who mow their lawns year-round, and Americans in northern states who mow their lawns during a much shorter growing season.

In Levittown, one of America’s first suburbs, homeowners were required to sign contracts saying they would mow their lawns at least once a week between April 15 and November 15 – dates that line up with Levittown’s growing season.  This meant that the homeowners had to mow their lawns at least 35 times a year.

Madison’s growing season is 83 days shorter than Levittown’s, lasting only from mid-May through late September. And, Madison has no requirement that homeowners have or mow a lawn. Yet, some in Madison choose to mow their lawns from mid-March through early December.

Mowing causes grass to grow faster. In other words, the more you mow your lawn, the more you have to mow your lawn.

Grass that is unmown, however, grows for a few weeks in the late spring, reaches a height of about two feet, and then dies back. If we tolerate tall grass for a couple of months in the summer, we can have short grass the rest of the year by mowing just once in the early fall.

Finally, we can plant slow-growing “eco-grasses” that remain short year-round with just two or three annual mowings – or we can seed our yards with dwarf mondo grass, a cultivar that resembles more common lawn grasses but never grows more than three inches tall.

How often does a lawn need to be mowed?

How much salt does it take to de-ice a sidewalk?

Snow and ice are a fact of life in Wisconsin. Shoveling is hard work, snowblowers make a lot of pollution – what is a homeowner to do?

Some deal with the problem by spreading salt on their sidewalks and driveways. While this is an effective practice that takes advantage of natural processes to efficiently solve a problem, many people greatly overestimate the amount of salt that is needed to accomplish the task at hand.

Just 1 to 3 cups of salt (approximately 1 to 3 pounds) per 1,000 square feet is plenty, says Dane County’s My Fair Lakes program. Property owners can use even less salt if they wet it before tossing it into the snow.

Using an entire 50-pound bag of salt, on the other hand, can pollute 10,000 gallons of water when it eventually washes down the storm drains and into the lakes. It also quickly becomes expensive for the homeowner, and the excessive salt can cause significant damage to pavement.

While salt is effective at melting snow, it’s not meant to be the sole solution to snow removal. After salting the driveway or sidewalk, wait 15 to 30 minutes. During this time, the salt will melt its way down to the pavement and unfreeze the snow from the ground. You’ll then be able to easily shovel it, resulting in a clear driveway or sidewalk.

Finally, remember to check that the type of salt you’re using is appropriate for conditions. Each kind of salt is only effective down to a certain temperature; if it’s colder than that, the snow won’t melt no matter how much salt you use.

How much salt does it take to de-ice a sidewalk?

What is the fifth principle of permaculture?

Use and value renewable resources and services.

Conspicuous consumption is a status symbol in America. By buying things and then throwing them away, we show that we’re rich enough to be wasteful. We do this with fossil fuels, with disposable products, and even with our time.

Lawns play into this value system. Historically, their purpose was to show that the property owner was so wealthy, he could afford to spend time and money preventing his land from producing anything.

Now, this lifestyle has reached its limits. Our wastefulness has impoverished the Earth to the point where it’s no longer possible to live that way. People who continue to waste are seen as behaving selfishly in a world that no longer has enough for everyone.

Today, most people value living more lightly on the land. Some ways that we do this are by driving more efficient cars, reducing food waste, drinking from reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic ones, and taking shorter showers.

Some other easy ways to consume less are by changing what we do in our yards. For example:

  • Gas and electric lawnmowers depend on non-renewable fossil fuels. Unmotorized mowers rely on human labor, which is renewable and carbon-neutral. Better yet, we can just let the plants grow.
  • Commercial fertilizer is artificially produced through an environmentally-damaging process. Grass clippings, fallen leaves, and animal droppings contain the same nutrients as commercial fertilizer, and are endlessly renewable.
  • Yard work takes a lot of time. Gardening with native plants that are adapted to the area and can take care of all their own needs allows us to spend our time on other things.

Using free, abundant, renewable resources makes us look like smart people who care about our neighbors and our planet. Living less materialistically is now a respected choice that increases our status in the eyes of others.

What is the fifth principle of permaculture?

What is a lasagna garden?

N0, it isn’t a garden that produces the ingredients for a baked pasta dish. Rather, it’s a type of raised bed that is built in layers, like a lasagna.

The first step in building a lasagna garden is to choose a good location and put down a layer of sheet mulch.

Next, add layers of organic material, such as compost, grass clippings, fallen leaves, or old newspaper. A frame can help to hold the materials together, but isn’t strictly necessary.

A lasagna garden should stand eight to twelve inches above ground level. It needs to be built higher than this, though, because the materials will settle a lot as they break down into soil.

As with a Hugelkultur bed, a new lasagna garden should be watered thoroughly, to help the materials break down and to provide plenty of moisture for the soil. Once the lasagna garden is established, it will hold moisture well and need little additional watering.

Late summer or early fall is a great time to build a lasagna garden. Plenty of yard waste is available for building up the layers. The material will break down over the winter, and will be watered in the spring by rain and snowmelt. Then, it will be ready for planting!

Seeds and seedlings can be planted directly into the lasagna garden. A final layer of mulch – such as straw or wood chips – will help prevent unwanted plants from inviting themselves in.

What is a lasagna garden?

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?

Where does yard waste go?

In the past, yard waste went to landfills, just like other types of waste produced around the home. In 1993, Wisconsin passed a law making it illegal to dispose of yard waste in landfills.

Unlike some other types of household waste, yard waste is organic: that is, it is biodegradable. However, waste does not decompose in landfills. This is because in landfills, waste is packed in tightly, preventing air from circulating. Without air, the organisms that normally would break down the waste are unable to survive and do their jobs.

Some organisms can survive these conditions. Though these organisms are able to break down waste, they do so through a process that produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Sending organic waste to a place where it either does not decompose, or decomposes in a way that contributes to climate change, is not a good practice. In addition, before the 1993 law went into effect, up to 20% of the landfill-bound waste stream was organic yard waste. That just takes up a lot of space!

A better way to deal with yard waste is to let it decompose in a way that produces healthy soil, instead of greenhouse gases. Currently, Madison collects yard waste and takes it to be composted centrally. This collection process, however, comes with its own harms. First, yard waste awaiting collection sits on or near the street, where nutrients can leak out of it and pollute our lakes. Second, collection is done using large trucks, which burn fossil fuels and make a lot of noise.

The need for collection of yard waste can be reduced if homeowners compost their own waste in a corner of their yard. In addition, yard waste itself can be reduced by eliminating unnecessary cutting of plants.

Where does yard waste go?