How to get free mulch

If you want healthy soil and healthy plants, you’ve got to mulch. Mulch is not compost–they’re often confused. Mulch is the dry, carbon-rich plant matter which you apply around your trees and shrubs to retain moisture, build soil and repress weeds. It’s also a good material for walkways and open spaces in a yard. Mulch can be made of leaf litter or straw or pine needles or many other things, but one of the most common types of mulch comes in the form of shredded tree trimmings.

Now, arborists and tree services are often happy enough to dump their shredded trimmings in your driveway, because this is often better for them than having to haul the trimmings to a disposal facility and pay a disposal fee. The problem is how do the tree services with mulch to give and folks who want mulch hook up?

A couple named Lori and Mark Russell are working on this problem. They developed a website and free app to put these parties in contact with one another. The app is in beta now, and they are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,500 to finish the app.

This is one of those projects which just makes good sense. It keeps valuable green matter out of landfills, saves miles on the road and tons of wasted fuel. It provides gardeners with much-needed mulch, which helps build soil, grow beautiful plants and sequester carbon. And it’s all free. What’s not to love?

Check out abouttrees.com

Or go straight to the Kickstarter page.

Prickly Wisdom

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We wanted to share this great comment by Mangofish left on one of our posts about prickly pear cactus:

Way back when I was just a lad, 40 years ago, My neighbor was a very old and almost completely blind Mexican. Good ol’ Sal Franco! In his younger days he lived wild and free, riding his horse in the deserts of Mexico. He actually briefly met Pancho Villa. He lived off the land, selling rattle snakes to earn some money, and ate what the desert provided. To eat the prickly pears he would gather a fist full of weeds to make a brush. Green weeds were the best since they held onto the tiny spines the best, but dried weeds worked OK but they allow the fine needles to blow in the wind. With the wind at your back dust the prickly pears with the weeds and knock off the needles. In bright sunlight you will see the needles glittering in the air as the wind carries them away, strong wind is preferred otherwise hold your breath so you don’t inhale the fine needles if the wind gently stirs around you. Once the needles are gone you can pluck the tunas off the cactus or use a pocket knife and slice the tunas open while they are still attached to the cactus and scoop out the inner fruit with your finger tips. I usually take them inside the house and enjoy them by slicing them in half and holding one end with a fork and with a spoon scoop out the flesh. But on a hot day working in the yard I’ll have a snack and using my pocket knife slice open the skin and access the juicy center while it is still attached to the cactus. I have 6 varieties now including the two which Sal originally gave to my dad. I can only wonder where Sal may have originally obtained those!

Day to day, our decisions count

I found this video was on the Global Soil Week website last week. It’s oddly creepy for something which is supposed to be informational and I assume, inspirational, yet the agribusiness Transformer monsters stick with me. I thought I’d share the creepiness. You’re welcome.

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[This is another post in the Back to the Garden series, which can be accessed by clicking on the tag to your left]

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Last week I introduced the subject of soil. Healthy soil is fundamental to a the loving landscape, to healthy people, to a healthy world. Initially, I’d imagined that I’d just do one post on soil and move on, but I realized that I’m going to need to linger in the topic and get my hands dirty, so to speak.

Today I wanted to talk about how our behavior, particularly our consumer choices around food, impact the health of the soil world-wide. I’m only focusing on two areas of behavior. There are, of course, many more to consider, but these two I like because they are achievable on a home-scale.

Remember, we are all gardeners, whether we have land or not. Every day we tend the garden which is the world.

Continue reading…

The Soil Beneath Our Feet

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This is what I see when I look down in our back yard. I feel best with something like this under my feet.

(Another post in our Back to the Garden series. Find others by clicking the series tag on the left, under the date.)

I’d planned to talk about soil this week, and by happy chance, it turns out that this happens to be (the 3rd) Global Soil Week, marked by a big conference in Berlin. It’s actually being livestreamed, so if you want, you can put on a suit, sit in a folding chair with a notepad balanced on your knee, and pretend that you are there.

(It’s also–I just found out–the International Year of the Soils.  Soil is the new black!)

The concerns they are talking about at the conference are huge, global in scale: food justice, mass migration, climate change–indeed, the future well-being of the planet and all of us upon it, because our lives are dependent on soil.

Yet these concerns can be scaled to our own back yards. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm. We may feel powerless to influence the course of the world, but we can shape our own lives, our own neighborhoods, to mirror the change we’d wish to see across the world. We can, in short, start the work of crafting Eden, step by modest step.

Healthy soils are evidence of a loving landscape. Healthy soils bring many gifts, gifts which scale from the back yard to global economies. Healthy soils make strong plants, increasing food yields and discouraging pests. Healthy soils wick and hold water, helping in times of both drought and flood. And healthy soil sequesters carbon.

When we think about CO2 emissions, we think about the burning of fossil fuels–and we should, because those account for 65.5% of carbon emissions, according to this fact sheet from the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology. But did you know that the act of clearing and converting land for crops accounts for another 29% of our total emissions? Deforestation makes up the final 5.5%–and of course much deforestation is for agricultural purposes. As a result, much of our personal carbon footprint hinges on our choices about what kind of food we eat, and how it is grown–and those questions revolve back eventually to soil and soil health.

Soil sequesters carbon, so building healthy soils is going to be a vital tool in the fight to mitigate climate change. This article, Soil as Carbon Storehouse from Yale’s Environment 360 magazine gives a good concise overview of the issues.

Personal Action

On the personal scale, we can do quite a lot. First, whether we have soil to tend or not, we have considerable influence on soil world-wide through our daily actions. In this global economy, our consumer decisions count. A simple trip to market brings up a lot of issues, soil health being one of many, since everything is connected.

At home, day to day, we also have influence over various patches of soil. We may have a yard, or a community garden plot, or we may help in the school garden, or attend meetings about the landscaping of a local park or the future of a recreation area. In all these places, we can exercise soil stewardship.

Soil is so important that I’m going to really drill down into this topic. In the next few posts I’ll  be talking about 5 areas of personal action on behalf of the soil:

  • Our consumer decisions
  • Composting
  • Mulching
  • No-till gardening
  • Committing to not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides

This being Root Simple, I know our readers are savvy–in fact, I suspect our readers know more about this stuff than we do. But I natter on nonetheless, preaching to the choir.

I hope the information I’ll be posting helps to provide you all with a little inspiration, or a fresh idea. And if you are already a member of the choir, then by all means, get out there and spread the gospel! Help your family, your friends and your neighbors understand how important soil health is for all of us.

What to do with not-so-good tomatoes

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As we wait eagerly for tomato season to commence, or for our homegrown tomatoes to come in, we might find ourselves buying grocery store tomatoes out of desperation and then–inevitably- being disappointed.

Usually I try to avoid store-bought tomatoes all together, using canned when good fresh tomatoes are not available, but sometimes canned tomatoes just aren’t what you need, so you have to wait for summer… or suffer bad tomatoes. Now there’s a middle way. Grocery store tomatoes can be reformed.

Continue reading…

What does the loving landscape look like?

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A bit of our own loving–if not very tidy- landscape

A post in our Back to the Garden series, organized under the “back to the garden” tag

So, let’s say we want to play nice with the rest of nature. Let’s say we want public parks, yards and gardens which exist for more than show, spaces which support a diversity of life, steward our resources wisely and are a joy to the eye. We’ve got to change the existing lifeless paradigm of lawn and hedge and disposable annual flowers.

How do we do that? What does that look like?

Well, the how part is going to take a few posts to explain–but we can start with what it might look like.

The fantastic thing about this new landscaping paradigm is that it is entirely local. If we remove the heinous, homogeneous, ubiquitous lawn from our tool box, suddenly a yard in Santa Fe looks quite different than a yard in Michigan or a yard in Florida. We return, after a long period of delusion, to the realm of common sense.

Because the new landscapes are entirely local, I can’t even begin to list or imagine all the possibilities, but here are a few of the images I see when I think about a better future:

Continue reading…

043 Growing Vegetables with Yvonne Savio

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Yvonne Savio is the Master Gardener Coordinator for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County. In this episode of the podcast we pick her brain about:

  • Why you should grow your own food.
  • Favorite vegetables.
  • How to harvest vegetables.
  • How to prepare a vegetable garden.
  • Making compost.
  • The problems with municipal compost.
  • Raised beds vs. growing in the ground.
  • Where to buy soil.
  • Testing soil.
  • How to irrigate vegetables in a drought.
  • Buried buckets for watering vegetables.
  • Seeds vs. seedlings.
  • Succession planting.
  • How to plant seedlings.
  • The website and calendar that Yvonne is putting together.
  • Grow LA Victory Garden Program

You can reach Yvonne at [email protected]

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Are Rubber Mulches or Tires in the Garden a Good Idea?

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Rubber mulches are used both as a soil cover and underneath artificial turf. Is this a good idea? According to “Garden Professor” Linda Chalker-Scott, the answer is no. She has a new fact sheet on the subject which concludes,

Rubber mulches can be attractive, easy to find and apply, and may not need frequent re-application. However, there are significant problems associated with using these mulches. In the short term, rubber mulch is not as effective as other organic mulch choices in controlling weeds. Furthermore, rubber mulches can attract insects (e.g., cockroaches), and they are highly flammable. In the long term, decomposing rubber mulch releases heavy metals and organic chemicals with unknown effects on human and environmental health. Other organic mulch choices, especially wood chips, are better performers and pose none of the environmental risks attributed to rubber mulch.

One of the principle plant toxins leached by rubber mulch is zinc. We have personal experience with zinc phytotoxicity in our own yard due to air pollution in Los Angeles (many years worth of brake linings blowing around and settling on the soil). I suspect that many of our gardening frustrations are related to our zinc problem.

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What about the use of whole tires in the garden, such as for planters or compost bins? According to a report by an environmental consultant sent to me by Mark, a Root Simple reader, whole tires do not seem to be a problem (at least in aquatic contexts). So it seems that we should keep those tires whole rather than shred them.