Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Energy: The Lifeblood of the World

Our lives revolve around power. Power we rely on to charge cell phones, light rooms, and heat homes. Without power you wouldn’t be reading these words right now. (How sad would that be?) Electricity courses through conduits across the earth, the blood of our modern world. Where blood flows there must be a heart to pump it. And the hearts of our electric blood are power plants, making the earth a giant, multi-hearted beast.
Hearts vary across the planet. Small solar panels attached to a roof, struggling to produce enough power to supply a single home. Large dams spanning mighty rivers, feeding entire cities with a constant electrical rhythm. Wind turbines soaring into the sky. Their electric output a slave to the fickle wind. Coal hearts, burning harvested chunks of the planet and polluting the earth with each shovelful. Nuclear reactors, consuming uranium to give us power, but leaving us with radioactive leftovers that we struggle to safely dispose. These plants range from clean, renewable sources with minimal negative effects, to others burning a finite resource that poison the air, water, and ground both near and far.

Grand Coulee Dam. It produces over 7,000 MW at
peak operation.
We are lucky. Most of our power comes from a clean, renewable source. Hydroelectricity supplies most of Washington State with power. Roughly ¾ of all power generated in the state is from dams. Washington generates nearly 1/3 of all the hydroelectric power in the country. The next closest state is Oregon, and it produces less than half that amount.
I really like hydropower. I think it’s a good, long term source of power. Albeit one with a few flaws that people are working on solutions for.  I realize that not everyone feels the same way about hydropower and the dams that supply it. It blocks the natural flow of rivers and impedes the movement of fish. Silt piles up behind it and at times needs dredging. The river ecosystem both above and below a dam is forever altered. Raised water levels flooded towns. People were forced out of their homes and had to retreat to high ground. But I ask you this. Do you have a solution?
If we tore out the dams what would you suggest we replace their power generation with? Coal or natural gas plants that burn limited fossil fuels, and pump CO2 into the air and contribute to global warming? Nuclear plants that don’t pollute the air, but leave us with barrels of radioactive waste that remains harmful for thousands of years? I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the negative impacts of dams, but I’ve not heard many sensible solutions. Dams remain the lesser of evils.

There are other clean, renewable energy sources available. Solar and wind power remain underutilized. Geothermal energy remains viable in areas with geology that allows its use. Tidal generation is available on certain ocean coasts.
Even though a wind farm covers large areas of land most of
it remains usable for agriculture or wildlife.
Wind power is renewable, clean, and relatively harmless. Some birds and bats die each year when they run into the large blades (it averages out to a few birds per turbine per year), but it’s just a modern day evolutionary selector. Its impact to the ground it sits on is minimal. A wind farm may cover several thousand acres of land, but after construction is complete, the impacted area is a small fraction of that amount. Another concern is aesthetics, not everyone likes to see an army of spinning blades in their panoramas of the landscape. The biggest issue with wind turbines is supply. The wind doesn’t always blow. Even when placed in an area of fairly constant wind there will be days with no wind. Wind power requires a backup if the wind is still. This often takes the form of another operating power plant capable of taking up the slack when necessary.
Part of the solar array at Nellis Solar Power Plant.
Solar power takes a variety of forms. From photovoltaic cells (which directly convert sunlight into electricity) to concentrated solar power (which focus the sunlight and use it to heat a substance and from there function similarly to other power plants).
Photovoltaic cells are the generic form of solar power. They’re the panels that can be seen on some roofs or as free standing structures. They can be a little expensive, but the costs have gone down from their original prices as well as the efficiency going up. The biggest downfall is when they work. The sun has to be out. Effectiveness decreases under cloud cover and they stop working completely at night. Surplus power must either be stored (in batteries) or an alternate power source must be used during times of low or no generation.
Concentrated solar power relies on heat, as does most generated power. A very basic explanation of how they work is as follows. A field of mirrors (picture one or more football fields) would reflect the sunlight either onto a single tower and heat a substance to a molten flowing state (several hundred degrees), or it would reflect on several different pipes running through the field. This molten substance then is piped through water heating it until it boils, produces steam, and builds pressure. (At this point it becomes like almost all other types of power generation.) This steam is then used to spin a turbine, which spins a generator and produces electricity. (Hydro power is similar except it uses liquid water to spin the turbine instead of steam.) This type of solar power has the benefit of being able to continue working after the sun goes down due to the stored heat in the substance.
A depiction of the different styles of
concentrated solar power.
Tidal power relies on tides flowing back and forth to produce hydroelectric power in ways similar to a dam across a river. Geothermal power uses heat from the earth at active geological sites to produce steam and generate power.

Size also remains a factor. Picture Rocky Reach Dam, it looks pretty big, right? Let’s say the dam and associated electrical equipment takes up ~100 acres. It also creates a reservoir behind it 43 miles long with a surface area of 98,000 acres, almost all of it usable for water activities, irrigation, and other uses. Rocky Reach has a max output of 1300 MW (1 MW is enough to power 225 to 300 homes). So 1300 MW would power anywhere from 292,500 homes up to 390,000 homes. Wenatchee has a population of ~32,000 people. If an average household is 4 people that means there are ~ 8,000 homes in Wenatchee. (Of course I’m leaving out apartments, businesses, etc.)
The Wild Horse Wind Farm outside Ellensburg covers ~10,000 acres and has a max output of 273 MW with 149 wind turbines, enough power for 61,425 to 81,900 homes. It would take nearly 5 wind farms of that size to produce the power of that one dam.
Nellis Solar Power Plant in Nevada produces 14 MW on 140 acres, roughly the size of Rocky Reach Dam. This output is enough to power 3,150 to 4,200 homes. There would need to be nearly 93 plants of similar size to produce the same power as that one dam. And it would need to cover an area of ~20 square miles. Picture the entire city of Wenatchee replaced with fields of solar panels.

A view from the back of Grand Coulee.
My point to all this is threefold. One, there are lots of options for producing power that aren’t as environmentally harmful as current methods. Several options are renewable, clean (more or less), and environmentally friendly (mostly). Second, almost all power generation is going to have people on both sides of the argument. People will be wholeheartedly in favor and vehemently opposed. Third, size is a factor. The fact is some of these options aren’t viable in all location because of the space necessary.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our World Supplied by Trees

Taiga forest in Alaska. Taiga forests exist in northern 
latitudes and consist mainly of coniferous trees.
Look out the window and consider what you see outside. There’s a good chance a tree is on that list. Trees can be found almost anywhere. They cover huge tracts of land in areas ranging from the equator to arctic regions. How often do you stop and think of everything that trees provide? Take a guess at the number of products derived from one species of a tree or another. Would you say 100? 500? 1000? The actual number is nearer to 5000. That’s right. 5000 products rely on a product derived from a tree. Industries ranging from construction to health care rely on trees.
Peeling bark from a Pacific yew.
When I say health care relies on trees, I don’t mean wooden tongue depressors. Several drugs found their origins in chemicals produced by trees. Aspirin was first isolated from the bark of a willow tree. The cancer drug, Taxol, was found in the bark of the Pacific yew. Quinine, an antimalarial drug, is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. Eucalyptus oil, used in many cold medicines, is extracted from the leaves of the eucalyptus. I could keep listing more drugs, but I think you get the idea. The amazing thing is this is just a fraction of the possibilities. There are still countless tree species that have yet to be studied for their medicinal properties.
Trees supply our paper. The list of products that use paper is astounding. Books, newspapers, posters, brochures, etc. are all produced from paper. Paper gave us the means before computers to spread information around the world and make it available to the masses. Cardboard is produced in much the same process and is just as useful. And regardless of whether you consider paper environmentally friendly, it does remain a completely renewable resource. Computers, however, are not renewable. Every computer is built out of materials that are finite. Think about that next time you’re trying to save the environment reading the news on your tablet instead of on newsprint.
A log being rough cut into lumber.
How many buildings could we build without a ready supply of wood? Not many. And they’d probably look a lot different. I realize that many large buildings are constructed from other base materials, but houses still rely a great deal on wood. Lumber cut straight out of the tree is used to frame the house. Added to the wood needed for framing is the collection of plywood, particleboard, fiberboard, I-joists, and glulam beams used in other parts of the construction. All of these are made from processed wood parts. Most of it is wood that would be unusable otherwise, and is processed with an adhesive to create these uniform products.
What about all the food we get from trees? I realize we don’t generally eat the wood itself, but trees produce many of our favorite foods. Apples, cherries, pears, oranges, and several other fruits grow on trees. Walnuts, pecans, almonds, and other nuts do as well. These crops represent an important portion of our diets and for those that grow them an important source of income.
Latex flowing out of tree bark into a collection vessel.
Rubber comes from the refined sap of a few species of trees, but the most common tree is the Pará rubber tree. Granted the majority of rubber doesn’t come from trees. Most of it is produced from petroleum. But rubber trees represent a renewable source of rubber. On the other hand removing natural habitat to grow these trees is not a viable option either. Rubber is used for car tires, without it what would we drive on? We use it to put soles on our shoes. Bouncy balls are made out of rubber, and who doesn’t love a bouncy ball?
A view of the Amazon Rainforest.
Obviously this is just a very small sampling of the vast number of products that come from trees. And while I’ve only listed a few I hope these stand out and show the importance of trees in our everyday lives. Without trees what would we have? Not much. Consider the importance of wood in just two items: lumber and paper. Where would our society be without these two things? Would we have advanced to this point without them? My guess is no.
I realize that many products have switched from wood to other materials. Sometimes this is because the other material is better for that use. Other times it’s because the other material is cheaper. But how often is that other product renewable? Unless it’s also a product that grows it’s probably not sustainable. I’m not saying to run out and start cutting down trees because they’re so awesome and can be used for many things. Improperly managed trees will not remain a renewable resource for long. But proper management and utilization of trees can allow us to keep using the plethora of items that are produced from them.

Come back next week for another post.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Native Plant Sale: Part 2

It’s the beginning of December and the snow is starting to fall as I sit writing the blog for this week. Frankly it’s about time. There’s something incredibly relaxing about watching the snow fall. As much as I would love to dive into talking about snow, I must save it until a little later in the winter. It’s the beginning of the month and therefore time to return to the topic of our Native Plant Sale and talk about four more plants we’re offering.

Quaking Aspenn
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is the second deciduous tree that we’re offering this year. Its range includes all of Canada, most of the United States except for the Southeast, and down into Mexico. Quaking aspen prefers to grow in soils that stay moist most of the year. It can grow in some areas with less moisture, but will not reach the same growth potential. The trees can reach up to 90 feet in height with adequate moisture, but will often remain under 40 feet, especially in drier sites. The tree gets its name from the way the leaves move in the wind. The stem shape of the leaves causes them to “quake” in even a light breeze. The leaves are a very pleasing green color through spring and summer, and in fall they turn a brilliant yellow. Aspens stabilize well, but sprouts will grow off of the roots.

Mock Orange
Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) is another one of the eight shrubs offered for sale this year. The range of mock orange includes Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California, British Columbia, and Alberta. It prefers well-drained, moist soils. It can be found in areas ranging from riparian to open or forested lowlands to rocky upland sites. It reaches heights ranging from six to ten feet with a spread of roughly six feet. Mock orange flowers anywhere from May to June. The blooms are white and give off a sweet smell making this shrub quite pleasant to have nearby when in bloom. This shrub is very useful for soil stabilization.

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) is the fourth out of eight shrubs offered this year. The range of snowberry includes the coastal mountains of the west coast, north into British Columbia, and east over to New England. It can grow in sun or shade, and in a variety of soil types including stream banks, moist clearings, and open forests. It grows from three to eight feet tall with an approximately equal spread. The flowers are white to pinkish. The berries are white during the summer and change to a darker color as they ripen. The berries are considered to be poisonous, so don’t eat them.

Woods Rose
Woods rose (Rosa woodsii) is the fifth of eight shrubs for sale this year. This rose has a range that covers western North America as far north as Alaska, south into Mexico, and east to Iowa and other Midwest states. It can grow in sunny or moderately shady sites. It is adapted to a range of moisture levels on site from riparian zones to dry grassy slopes. However, it grows best in moist, well-drained soils and on sites that are open. It grows roughly six to eight feet tall with an approximately equal spread. The flowers are various shades of pink and it blooms anywhere from May-July. Woods rose is useful for erosion control due to its rhizomatous root system that spreads out and helps stabilize the soil.

Of course by the time I finished writing this blog the sun was out and the snow has stopped without really any of it accumulating. Sigh. There will always be another day for more snow to come though. This concludes the brief look at these four plant species. Eight plants down, four more to go in the beginning of January. If any of these species interest you make sure to visit our website, download the available forms, and place your order!

Until next week,


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Sunshine's first peak through the trees on a summer morning up in Entiat Meadows.

A view of some of our wonderful shrub steppe.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches it’sappropriate to think about everything that we have to be thankful for. There’s always the old, traditional choices of friends, family, good health, home, food, etc. Nothing wrong with those options of course, but what of the other options we don’t always think about? Things like trees, rivers, lakes, snow, rocks, sunshine, and mountains. All these things are a product of our environment and where we live. And it’s worth taking the time to look at them and appreciate what they offer us.
Imagine the world. Think of the variety between places. Freezing snowscapes where the snow lies as a blanket much of the year. Barren desertscapes covered in sand, the wind constantly reshaping the ground. Watery oceanscapes where you’d need gills to fully appreciate the life under the surface.
Snow lining a creek in late winter.
When you stop and think about all the options out there you realize what we have here is not something to forget and ignore. It’s something to appreciate and be thankful for. We live in an area with a great abundance and variety of natural resources. Our ecosystems range from shrub steppe to mountain to forest to alpine to freshwater. There’s a little of it all here.

What use are the rocks and the mountains you may wonder? They provide us with vistas and sceneries to ponder. Being so tall they also trap the snow. And keep it up high where it can accumulate. The snow provides us with a winter playground perfect for skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. But it also melts in the spring, filling creeks, lakes, and rivers with fresh water all year long. This water in turn provides for us in many more ways. It provides a home for the fish that we like to catch. A source for our water hungry crops, which in turn provide us with the food we enjoy eating. This water also provides us with our low cost, renewable, and relatively clean power supply.
The last vestige of snow in Cow Creek Meadows.
The trees in the forest provide for us too. They give us lumber to build our homes and fuel for our fireplaces. We get to enjoy their beauty from afar and up close. They shade us from the sun’s heat by a remote lake or creek. And perhaps most importantly they provide us with oxygen to breathe—while at the same time pulling carbon dioxide out of the air.
The sunshine is perhaps the most useful of all. For without it nothing would live here either big or small. The sun warms us with its soft, yellow rays. Though it may not seem like it on a cold winter day. Without the sun nothing could grow. For the plants need it to photosynthesize as many of you know. The sun gives us our glorious summer. But it can also burn you, which is a small bummer.

When Thursday comes round and you’re ready to eat. And you’re starting to carve your favorite roast meat. Just remember all the things that our outside around you. And maybe this year try to give thanks for them too.

Snowmelt flowing down Ingalls Creek.
Remember all that Cascadia is offering right now. There’s the Native Plant Sale that still has plenty of plants left to choose from. We’re also hosting a Native Planting 101 workshop on February 8, 2014 from 12:00 PM - 4:30 PM. It’s a perfect opportunity to learn about ways to use all the native plants you can purchase from the Plant Sale. Last, but not least, we have 2014 Picture the Wenatchee Watershed Calendars. The calendars feature winning photographs from our photo contest earlier this year. Visit our website,, and click on the links down the right side to find more information about these three things as well as order forms to order your native plants and calendars.
The beginning of the Entiat River.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Christmas Trees

If you take children along to cut a tree you can get them 
to carry it, and use that moment to take a cute photo.
So you want to cut your own Christmas tree? There are two reasons that come to mind when people choose to get their own tree. Either you hate paying $40 or $50 for a tree (don’t blame you), or you enjoy going out with your family and friends to pick out a perfect tree together. Personally, I combine both reasons. I like that it’s cheaper, and I enjoy spending the day driving through the forest looking for a tree. But you can’t just go anywhere you want and cut whatever tree you want. There are rules that need to be followed. For a complete listing of the rules visit the forest service website that outlines everything for you.

However, I’m still going to give you the basics of the rules. A quick and dirty version if you will:

1)      You will need a tree permit
a.       A mere $5 at a forest service office
2)      Trees must be less than 15 feet tall.
3)      Leave at most a 6 inch stump.
4)      Try not to cut the only tree in an area.
5)      Only cut trees within national forest lands.
6)      Do not cut any tree within 150 feet of any water, flowing or still.
7)      Do not cut trees out of campgrounds or other related sites

And now for a quick rundown of tree care:

1)      Be gentle with your tree as you transport it to prevent needle and limb loss.
2)      If tying your tree to the top of a car you may wish to wrap it to prevent wind damage.
3)      Once to your home make a fresh cut on the tree base and place directly in water.
4)      Keep tree in a cool, wind free place until you take it into the house.
5)      Do not put the tree next to any sources of ignition.
6)      Properly dispose of your tree.

That should cover the basics of cutting your own tree. On top of that remember to stay safe while you’re out there. Only take vehicles that you know can handle the rapidly changing conditions of winter forest service roads. A snow storm can start and dump inches of snow in the time it takes you to track down a Christmas tree.

The beginnings of Christmas trees. 
Talking about cutting your own Christmas tree kind of ignores the first decision that must be made when choosing a tree: real or fake? There are people that argue both sides for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look.
The first reason is almost always aesthetical. It’s either you can’t tell the difference between them (those in favor of fake trees), or you’ll never beat the natural look (those in favor of a real tree). From there the argument usually dives into how you can’t beat the natural pine smell, and the other side arguing that’s a good thing. And then it turns into an argument of needles. The fake tree people say that it’s much easier to clean up, and the other side returns that it’s not so bad. Just make sure to get the right tree and they’ll hardly lose any needles. And finally you get to the cost argument. Well if you go cut your own tree it’s only $5! Yeah, well that $200 fake tree will be usable for years to come. It’ll add up. So this goes on and on for a while and neither side really bends. So who’s right? It’s really based on your own preferences.
Let’s start with the visual arguments. I personally think that a fake tree looks fake, which defeats the purpose of getting a tree in the first place. But, to be honest, it doesn’t look that bad. (Assuming of course it’s a fake green tree, and not one of the bright neon trees.)
The pine smell. This is at least half the reason I like real Christmas trees. It’s as if you get to bring the forest into your home for a month and enjoy it without having to go outdoors. I do realize that some people don’t care about the smell, or they find it offensive, and for them a fake tree may be more appropriate.
A few years old. Trees can take anywhere from 6 to 10
years to be ready for harvest.
The needles can be a pain, I agree. And there have been years that I had to vacuum almost every day just to keep my living room looking clean. But on the other hand my tree last year had next to no needle loss, and it continued to hold its needles well after I had taken it down and thrown it outside. (I should have made a note what type of tree it was, but of course I forgot.) The takeaway is that needle loss can be fairly well avoided with proper watering and tree selection.
The cost argument is usually what gets me. I hate spending $40 on a live tree. Let alone $200 or more on a fake tree. I do realize that if you do normally buy live trees for $40 or more that it quickly adds up from year to year. In that case buying an artificial tree might be cost effective. But remember when considering the cost effectiveness of buying a fake tree that you may not get all the years out of it you think you will. You may think that the tree will last you 10 or 15 years, when in reality it may only last you 5 before it gets too beat up to use anymore. And if you cut your own tree for only $5 it’s hard to argue the cost effectiveness of buying an artificial tree. (Even with factoring in $10 or $15 each year for the gas cost of getting your tree.)

Now let’s explore some environmental factors that might influence your decision. Mainly, which is more environmentally friendly? From the few studies that I could find that explored this issue neither one is that bad for the environment. Especially when compared to things such as driving to work every day. If you travel only a few miles to get a real tree than it can often be less environmentally damaging when compared to a fake tree. But that was based on a 6 year lifespan of an artificial tree. Increasing that lifespan or increasing the distance to get a real tree could flip the results around. However, it should be noted that parking your car for a week or two could offset the environmental cost of either option for any given year.

In conclusion the choice is yours. Depending on what you’re looking for you could choose a real or an artificial tree. Neither one has a huge advantage over the other. If you want to go with a live tree and want to cut it yourself remember to follow the rules and stay safe.

Make sure to tune in next week for another article.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Seed Dormancy

Some seeds have this odd thing about them. They don’t sprout at the first moment that conditions are ideal. Why would they do this? It increases the rate of their survival. These seeds are in a state of dormancy. This isn’t the same as hibernation. Hibernation is something that an organism chooses to go into. Seeds don’t choose to enter dormancy when winter is coming or the soil dries out. They have no choice. It’s something they start out in. Dormancy keeps seeds from sprouting during decent conditions because it’s forcing them to wait until a time they’d have a better chance of survival.

Do all plant species produce seeds that go through dormancy? No, because not all of them need to. A seed dropped during October isn't going to sprout. The conditions aren't ideal for germination (the point when a seed sprouts and the plant first starts growing). It’ll wait until the spring and then it will sprout up. Also, seeds from plants living in areas with a fairly constant year round climate (such as an equatorial rainforest) can often be non-dormant. The conditions on any given day are so similar to any other day that there’s no reason to go through dormancy.
However, a seed dropped in August may need dormancy. September might be a damp, warm month, and a non-dormant seed might thing it was okay to sprout. And for a few weeks or a month it might grow just fine. At least until it started to drop below freezing and started snowing. At that point the seedling would probably die. However, with dormancy the seed is prevented from sprouting during the fall. Some mechanism in the seed prevents it from sprouting until it receives a signal canceling the dormancy. The dormant seed then rides out the winter safely, and it’s not until spring that it finally sprouts and grows. Instead of having a month or two to grow in the fall, this new seedling will have six or seven months to grow. This extra growth might make all the difference in the plant’s survival.

Seed dormancy can take a variety of forms and require a variety of cues in order to be broken. These forms include physical, physiological, morphological, morphophysiological, and combination dormancy. The cues can vary wildly, anything from a period of cold to one of heat, a time of dryness to one of dampness. Let’s take a brief look at each of the different forms.
Physical dormancy is probably the simplest form. In this form water is blocked from entering the seed by the seed coat. It’s only after a period of time and environmental factors that the seed coat is made permeable (allows the passage of water). At this point the seed can germinate once favorable conditions arrive.
Physiological dormancy is caused by internal chemical suppression of germination. The environmental factors might be favorable for growth, but the cue has not come to release the stranglehold on germination. This cue (at least in our area) often takes the form of a certain time length of cold temperatures. In much hotter climates this could be reversed and require a period of high temperatures. Other seeds might require a period of darkness, one that might only occur in the short days of winter, or with snow cover.
Morphological dormancy is a product of having seeds that can’t germinate because they’re not ready yet. The plant dropped seeds that were not yet developed enough to germinate. The seeds need time on the ground just to reach the point where germination could start.
Morphophysiological dormancy is a combination of physiological and morphological dormancy. The seedling is both underdeveloped and chemically prevented from germinating. This means that one of the environmental cues must occur and then a period of time must pass before the seed will sprout.
The final form is a mix of physical and physiological dormancy. The seed has both a water impermeable seed coat and it requires environmental cues to allow germination.

Think about the work it’s taken to grow what we want, where we want, and when we want. The seeds we buy to plant in our gardens aren’t always non-dormant varieties. Many of them had their innate dormancy bred out of them by humans selecting for seeds that germinated easier. Other seeds may need to be tricked into thinking that all their environmental cues had been met. They may be dried out and put in a fridge for a few months, put in a dark room, or kept warm for a few weeks. Think of the effort it takes to trick these seeds into growing for our needs. And that’s not to say we know how to trick all plant seeds. There are still species we don’t understand which cues they need to break dormancy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Native Plant Sale

Cascadia has started accepting orders for the 2014 Native Plant Sale. This year we’re offering 12 different native species. These 12 species can be grouped into four basic categories: coniferous trees, deciduous trees, shrubs, and ground cover. With 12 different options there is bound to be something perfect for whatever your landscaping needs may be. Native plants are ideal for creating a new native garden, restoring a damaged site, or they can just as easily be used as a compliment to an already existing garden.
What makes native plants so amazing? They know the area. Native plants evolved under our natural climate and conditions. That means that they don’t require the constant watering, fertilizing, or tending to that many ornamental plants require. Once established, native plants will flourish with very little upkeep on your part. Visit our website for more information. Order yours today!

Since we’re starting to take orders for our native plant sale, I feel it’s only appropriate to spend some time talking about the different plant species we’re offering this year. This week I’m going to cover four plants: ponderosa pine, rocky mountain maple, golden currant, and serviceberry.

Ponderosa Pine
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is the only conifer we’re offering this year, but it’s a good one. Ponderosas have a native range that goes from southern Canada to Mexico.  They grow in a wide range of soils provided there is enough moisture and drainage. It frequents areas receiving 14-30 inches of annual precipitation, much of this as snow in the winter. Once established it is fairly well suited at surviving periods of drought, such as the summer months. Ponderosas do not like shade. In order to properly grow they need access to direct sunlight. They work very well as an erosion control due to their quick growth and ability to grow in many soil types. They can live for several hundred years and reach heights of over 100 feet with diameters of more than 2 feet.

Rocky Mountain Maple
Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum) is one of two deciduous trees on sale this year. It covers a large range the goes from Southern Alaska all the way down to California. Rocky Mt. Maple can thrive in a variety of sites with adequate moisture, from moist lowlands to dry uplands. It tolerates shade well enough to grow as an understory species, but can also grow with full sun in exposed areas. Depending on the conditions it can grow as a shrub or tree. It can reach heights of 30 feet with adequate space.


Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is another of the eight shrubs offered this year. It is found throughout western North America at low to mid elevations. It grows in many site types, full sun to shade, moist to dry, and level to steep. It grows best with over 12 inches of yearly precipitation and good drainage with decent sun exposure. It works well as a stabilizer because of its large root system. It produces many white blooms in the spring and in late summer provides berries for wildlife. It grows anywhere from six to fifteen tall with similar amount of spread.

Golden Currant
Golden currant (Ribes aureum) is the one of eight shrubs up for sale this year. Its range covers an area from Canada south to Southern California or Northern Mexico. They grow in a variety of sites, from damp, brushy sites to exposed, rocky hillsides. It generally prefers good sun exposure. The flowers are bright yellow and cover the plant in the spring. Later in summer it produces small berries that are eaten by a variety of wildlife. The bush usually reaches heights and spreads around six feet.

That’s just a brief look at four of our plants offered this year. I’ll do this two more times at the beginning of December and January to finish covering all of our offered plants. If any of these plant species sound appealing, make sure to visit our website and download the brochure and order form. 

Tune in next week for another article.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wood for Warmth

As the nighttime temperatures start to drop below freezing we tend to think more and more about staying warm inside our homes. For most people that means turning on the furnace, baseboards, or other forms of indoor heating. I, however, start to look forward to the opportunity to light a fire in my woodstove. Most months in Wenatchee and the surrounding areas are either too warm, too dry, or some combination of both to need or safely burn a fire. But from November through March, I feel perfectly comfortable burning a fire if I think it’s cold enough outside.
A nice, warm campfire. A similarly sized fire inside a
fireplace would burn well and provide plenty of heat. 
Notice the space between the logs allowing for 
good air flow. 
I enjoy burning wood for a variety of reasons. Some are economical, while others are purely superficial. Burning a fire saves money. When I burn a fire I don’t need to run heat in the rest of my home. I can turn the thermostat off and heat my living areas with my woodstove. I grew up in a home where the heat was left at 60 degrees throughout the winter. (It was even colder during the night.) If you were chilly you either sucked it up or you put on a sweatshirt. I keep my house slightly warmer (~63). My girlfriend hates this. Given the choice she’d have it at 75. I compromise with her by building a fire. The fire will often get the house warmer than I’m willing to keep it with the central air. Everyone wins. I also enjoy the beauty of a fire. There’s something about watching the flames dance behind the glass that’s both enchanting and relaxing.

Now, what do you need to know about burning in your home? Let’s take a look at some of the ins and outs of efficiently and properly using fire.

The most important part of burning is having fuel. And not just any fuel will do. For the most part you should only be burning wood in a fireplace or woodstove. And that wood should come from a tree. Wood that has been painted, treated, or otherwise chemically altered is not fit for burning. Not only could some of those compounds cause the fire to flame up, but there’s a good chance they’re filled with harmful chemicals. Burning such wood is harmful to both your own health and that of the environment. It’s best to stick to wood that’s been cut for the strict intention of burning.
What’s the best type of wood to burn? Dry wood. If your wood is still green or left out in the rain it’s not going to burn well at all. Good firewood should dry at least a year in order to ensure that most of the water has evaporated out. The lower the water content the better your wood will burn. Split your firewood first to ensure it has the largest surface area available to dry with, and don’t stack it too tight. Make sure it stays covered as well.
A fireplace is usually open to the room. Doors or screens
are usually put in front to block things falling in or out.
When burning a fire make sure it stays good and hot. Not so hot your house might catch on fire, but hot enough to keep the wood burning as clean as possible. Don’t pile too much wood in all at once. Keep spaces between the burning wood in order to allow proper air flow. A good way to check your fire is to walk outside and look at what’s coming out of your chimney. If all you can see are heat waves than your fire is burning properly. If you see clouds of billowing smoke than you’re doing something wrong. Either your wood is wet, or it’s not getting enough air flow to burn properly. Not only are you not getting an optimal fire, but you’re polluting the air as well.
What’s the best way to get firewood? That’s up to you. Buying firewood can be quite expensive. A cord of firewood cut, dried, and delivered to your home could easily cost a few hundred dollars. (A cord of wood is a pile measuring 4’x4’x8’. Depending on how much you burn this could last a few weeks or a few months.) Cutting your own is an option, and the basic permit isn’t very expensive, but the amount of work might outweigh the low cost of the permit. To cut your own firewood requires chainsaws, axes, and splitting mauls. Not to mention the ability to haul the cut firewood out of the mountains and back to your home.
A woodstove is enclosed. The door seals, and air enters
through vents. Wood stoves can often heat better 
because of the larger surface area open to the room.
When cutting you have to be aware of where and what you’re cutting. Only cut dead trees, which in our area means watching out for Western larch that only look dead. When in reality they’ve only dropped their needles for the winter. Make sure to avoid any riparian zones. Even if the tree is dead it’s still part of the riparian ecosystem. Don’t travel far from the roadways. It may seem like the better thing to leave trees next to the road, but the dead trees will be removed when they fall over the road later anyways. Also, do you want to haul wood a quarter mile back to your truck?

Another important facet of wood burning is the environmental factor. Burning wood does decrease the amount of electricity you might need for heating your home, but in our area the electricity comes from dams, so you’re replacing a non-air polluting power source with an air polluting heat source. This air pollution includes a lot of fine particulate matter that may be harmful to anyone that breathes large amounts of it. Wood burning can contribute to poor air quality during certain winter conditions. Winter often creates conditions where the air tends to settle in valley areas. The smoke from fireplaces doesn't have a chance or the ability to escape the valleys. We’re left with unhealthy air to breathe. Pay attention to any burn bans that might be in effect. If burning is banned it’s not done to spite you. It’s done because the air quality is poor and doesn't need any more added pollutants.

So, if you’re like me and planning on burning in your home, do it the right way. Make sure your wood is properly prepared. Don’t burn unsafe materials. Watch your fire and make sure it’s burning efficiently. And don’t forget everyone else in your area. Fires are great for heat and entertainment, but keep in mind that other people and the environment might be affected in ways you don't notice.

Stay tuned for next week's article.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Fungi

© Hartmann Linge, 
Wikimedia Commons
What comes to mind when you think about fungi? Perhaps it’s mold on a bread slice, a bright red mushroom on the forest floor, or maybe you’re not sure what a fungus is. Regardless, fungi are so much more. Not only are the visible portions of a fungus usually just a small part of a larger organism, but many fungi are difficult to see because they’re under the soil, inside a tree, or microscopic. The truth is fungi are everywhere. 

A fairy ring. The mushrooms mark the outer reaches
of the entire underground fungal growth.
Mushrooms may be easily visible, but they’re only part of a larger system. A mushroom is simply the fruiting body of the larger, unseen mycelial mat. (A mycelial mat is the portion of a fungus not usually seen by human eyes. It’s responsible for uptake of nutrients and water and for most other functions as well.) Mushrooms are responsible for releasing spores into the air. The spores then travel on air currents in the hopes that they land somewhere with the right conditions to allow for growth of a new fungus. While a single mushroom cannot show the true size of the underground mycelium, a group of them might be able to. This is seen in fairy rings where the mushroom ring outlines the entire area of growth.

Walking through a forest you often see fallen trees and other debris rotting on the floor. What causes that debris to rot? Fungi. And it’s a good thing too. If that material didn’t rot and break down the forest floor would slowly accumulate more and more stuff. Eventually the floor would be so full that nothing could grow up through the choking mass of debris. The only things that would survive would be the trees already present, but even they would eventually die. At some point all the trees would die and nothing would be left except a pile of dead logs and accumulated leaf litter.
© Mary and Angus Hogg, Wikimedia Commons
Decomposition (the same thing as rotting just a more technical term) is important for two main reasons. One, as mentioned above, it helps break down debris and keep the ground clear. Two, by breaking down the debris it returns the nutrients in forms that can be reused by other plants. Without this cycling of nutrients plants wouldn’t be able to grow and thrive regardless of the availability of space on the forest floor. Fungi’s roll in decomposition makes it one of the most important players in the plant cycle. Without fungi the cycle would stop.
While decomposition of fallen trees and debris is generally good for still living and future plants, rotting of living tissue is not. Some fungi will infect a tree and start breaking down the inner part of the tree. The tree may look perfectly healthy and then one day fall over. And it won’t be until it’s fallen over on the ground that you can tell it had been rotted from the inside out.

Fungi can also help plants grow and thrive in environments that might normally be inhospitable to a plant. Fungi do this through a mycorrhizal association with the roots of a plant. This association is symbiotic between the plant and the fungus. (Symbiotic relationships are when two or more species form a close working relationship, often for long periods of time. These relationships can take different forms: benefit all; benefit one and hurt another (parasites); and benefit one without hurting the other.) The fungus is able to pull water and nutrients out of the soil that the plant may not be able to get at for a variety of reasons: soil pH, water content, etc. The fungus then transports these to the plant’s roots where the plant exchanges the nutrients for carbohydrates.

A elm tree showing the 
effects of Dutch elm disease.
© Luis Fernández García,
Wikimedia Commons
Not all fungi are helpful though. It’s estimated that more than 80% of all plant diseases are caused by fungi. These diseases cover a broad spectrum of symptoms and effects. Some fungi simply infect a few leaves and don’t hurt the overall health of the plant, but others can start on a leaf and quickly make its way through the whole plant. Destroying the plant host as it goes.
Most plants and fungi in an area have evolved together over time. The fungi come up with a new way to infect, and the tree responds with a new defense. In general this keeps them fairly well matched. Fungi still infect certain specimens, but most are able to fight off the infections. The issue arises with introduced pathogens. Fungi from other continents might present challenges to native species. Diseases like Dutch elm disease and sycamore anthracnose are the result of fungi that were introduced into areas with plant species that had no defenses to them. This has led to the death and disfigurement of large numbers of both elm and sycamore trees.

Next time you’re out walking around I hope this blog helps you understand the role of fungi in your life. Remember that many things in life wouldn’t be possible without them. They help the plants grow and through them help us as well. And while fungi do cause many problems, their positives far outweigh their negatives. And last, but definitely not least, without fungi in the form of yeast we would have neither bread nor beer. Mull about that next time you’re sitting in a brewery/bakery enjoying the fruits of a fungi’s labor.

As always tune in next week for another informative article.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Plant in the Fall

Planting in the fall may seem like a poor choice. Winter is knocking on the door, and whether we like it or not will soon force its way into our lives. With freezing temperatures and snow on their way it may seem like the worst time of year to plant, but it's actually a great time. Bulbs, shrubs, and trees can do very well when planted in the fall.
Fall planting works well because of the weather associated with it. While it may seem cold and wet outside when compared to the summer we left behind, fall weather is often more pleasant than spring. The weather is still warm during the day, but not overly hot. There are usually less rainy and cloudy days, but rain still comes fairly regularly. Also the soil is quite a bit warmer in the fall than in the spring.

Bulbs that have been in the ground for over a year follow their own natural rhythms. It's only the first year that can cause them some issues as they adjust to life back in the ground. Bulbs normally sprout in the spring, grow, and then go dormant in the fall. When planted in the spring it can take a little time for the bulbs to start the process of sprouting. They have to adjust first. Planting in the fall can remove some of the issues of spring planting. The bulbs have a chance to acclimate to the soil before going dormant for the winter. This leaves them well prepared to start spring growth based on their natural rhythms. Plant bulbs too late in the season and they might miss the signals necessary to start growth. This may lead to them developing far later in the year than normal, or they might not sprout at all.

New shrubs and trees, when planted in the spring, spend a lot of their first year trying to establish a good root system. The resources spent on root growth are necessary, but at the same time they limit resources available to other plant growth. Water requirements the first year are also quite higher than subsequent years due to the lack of an established root system.
Fall planting can remove these issues. Even though shrubs and trees are headed towards dormancy in the fall they still have time to grow. Planting them in the fall gives them a month or two to establish roots without also trying to grow the other parts of the plant as well. This preparation allows the plants to grow in the spring without diverting so many resources towards root growth. This helps cut down on the watering necessary the first spring and summer.

The last benefit to fall planting is money. Often the plants available at the end of the season are much cheaper than they were during spring or summer. By fall most businesses with plants still in stock just want to get rid of them. Anything they have left that you want will typically be much less expensive.

Hopefully this gives you an option to consider when planting, instead of automatically planting in the spring. Next time you have plans to plant in the spring; consider the alternatives and plant in the fall. You'll save yourself time, effort, and money. When spring comes you'll be able to enjoy your new plantings without slaving away in the muck trying to get them in the ground. 

Make sure to tune in again next week for another article. I plan to talk about fungi next and explore some of their roles in our environment.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Don't Throw Out Your Fallen Leaves

As the sun rises later each morning and sets earlier each evening, the nights creep closer to freezing and the day doesn't warm until late afternoon, it's time to start preparing your yard for the coming winter. Depending on the size and complexity of your yard, and your individual interest, preparing for winter can be a half day's project or a month's worth of Saturdays.
One project in particular can vary greatly in its difficulty depending on the number of trees in your yard. A single ornamental tree may barely register a blip on your work meter, while four or more large trees can easily peak your work meter, and leave you with dozens of bags of leaves to deal with. Don't toss your leaves though. Not only is that a waste of valuable landfill space, but those dead leaves still have plenty of life left in them.

Multiple options are available that make use of your leftover leaves, and almost all of these options are far simpler than you might think. The nice part is that you start with the same basic prep for all options and then you get to decide what you want to do with them. Use all of them in one or split it between all your options.
The first step is to shred the leaves. There are two basic options for shredding. The first option is to simply mow over the leaves on your grass. If you have a mower and bag this is a really simply way to shred. Simply mow into the bag and then empty the bag where you want it. If your mower doesn't have a bag you can still mow the leaves, but you're going to have to rake them up afterward. The other option is to gather the leaves up and run them through a chipper/shredder. This option may seem unnecessary if you own a mower, but a mower isn't usable in all areas of a yard. Of course, the leaves could be moved onto your lawn and then mowed. But if you have access to a chipper/shredder it may be simpler to pile, shred, and use without moving the leaves too far.
After the leaves are shredded you have to decide what you want to do with them. The simplest option is probably mulching and from there you can go through more and more complex forms of composting. If you want to use them for mulching they're ready to go. Simply take the shredded leaves and place them where you want, around plants or across entire flower beds. Mulching serves a couple purposes. The first is it helps keep the soil moist by blocking the soil from direct sun exposure. The second is that it helps provide a barrier against weed growth.
Composting takes more work. While mulch may eventually turn to compost after enough time, if you want true compost it needs to be helped along. This involves mixing the shredded leaves with soil to introduce microbes that will help break down the leaf matter. It also needs to remain warm and moist. A compost pile may need to be periodically watered in dry climates. Compost can be done on the ground in piles, but it's more efficient to place it in a dark, above ground bin. This helps heat the compost, especially during the colder months. Compost also must be periodically turned to allow proper mixing and decomposition.
By themselves leaves don't make the most ideal compost. Leaves are heavy in carbon, but low in almost all other nutrients. It's best to add other green plant matter and food scraps from the house into the compost to build up other nutrient levels. Doing this will help create compost with a wide range of available nutrients, perfect for adding to gardens and flowerbeds the following spring and summer.
Another variant on compost is making leaf mold. The difference between leaf mold and regular compost is the composition of the starting ingredients. Leaf mold is entirely made of decomposed leaves. Simply take the shredded leaves, place them together, and keep moist. You can use compost bins, plastic bags, or just make piles on the ground. Every few weeks simply turn and mix the leaves like you would with a regular compost pile. Wait several months and then it's ready to use. Leaf mold is less a fertilizing compost and more a conditioner for the soil. It helps fluff up the soil while at the same time increasing the water holding abilities of the soil.
If you want to create new garden beds for the following spring the leaves will be a great asset. Start by spreading several sheets of newspaper over the ground you want to use. This will help keep underlying vegetation from growing through. From there spread alternating layers of shredded leaves and green plant matter (basically anything except leaves), aiming for about twice as much leaf matter as green matter. Layer until it reaches a foot or two in depth and then let it sit. By springtime the matter should have decomposed enough to leave a rich soil, perfect for spring planting. Fall is ideal for this because the new garden has the rest of fall, all winter, and early spring to decompose. The higher amounts of rainfall and the winter snows also benefit by keeping it moist. By spring the two feet you started with will have shrunk down, but the soil should be very good for planting.

Whichever of these options sounds the best is completely up to your tastes and needs. Just use at least one of them. The amount of time it takes to rake, gather, and bag all the leaves just to throw them away is probably on par with at least a couple of these options. So take the time to help yourself and make good use of all your available resources, even if those resources are dead leaves.

Tune in next week for another interesting article.