Thursday, November 27, 2008

Along comes a robotic mower that's also a security guard

OK, here’s a question for you — which will come first:

A robotic mower that can be used for daily commercial mowing?
We land a man on Mars?

We ask that because we’ve seen or read about more than a dozen units designed and built by university students over the years, mostly in competitions. And we’ve also seen several attempts at producing and marketing robotic mowers that can be used by commercial cutters. But all have fallen far short of exciting grounds professionals or landscape maintenance companies. Yes, there are several neat little robotic mowers that would probably do quite well for a homeowner, although even these look more like novelties than work machines.

Now comes two students at Louisiana State University’s department of computer science with their AgBot, a prototype robot that can be used for multiple tasks, such as mowing, seeding, fertilizing, and since it’s also equipped with a night vision camera positioned atop a 360-degree swivel, a high-frequency alarm system and a motion sensor it can double as a night watchman.

Click on the headline to see the students putting the AgBot through its paces.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Big Canadian retailer to stop selling "cosmetic pesticides"

Rona Inc., a big Canadian retailer that sells home improvement and garden products, says it will quit selling cosmetic pesticides (pesticides used on home landscapes and lawns) by next July, reports CBC News.

Taking these products off its shelves will cost it $20 million in annual sales, out of total revenues exceeding $6.3 billion (Canadian) at nearly 700 stores, including about 75 big-box stores.

The use of pesticides on home lawns and common properties, which started out with the small community of Hudson in Quebec Province winning a 10-year legal battle to institute a pesticide ban in 2001, has blossomed into a national issue.

Here’s a rundown from the CBC of what’s happening within provinces where cosmetic pesticides have become an issue:

— British Columbia: 22 communities have introduced controls on pesticides.

— Ontario: In April 2008, Ontario announced plans to ban more than 300 pesticides by 2009, but will allow them to be used to control pests in farming and forestry.

— New Brunswick: The communities of Shediac, Caraquet, Sackville and St. Andrews have outlawed cosmetic pesticides.

— Nova Scotia: The Halifax Regional Municipality is the only region to have issued a ban on cosmetic pesticides in the province.

— Prince Edward Island: The province is considering introducing a ban on the use of cosmetic pesticides.

— Quebec: In April 2006, Quebec introduced a province-wide ban on the sale and use of pesticides on public, private and commercial land. The ban does not apply to golf courses and farmlands.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Leaves raked onto curbs adds to phosphorus loading

Below is some timely information that appeared in a recent enewsletter from the Cornell University turfgrass team. In light of the actions by some communities to ban the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus, regardless of what soil tests reveal, we thought it was interesting. Phosphorus runoff, of course, promotes algae and plant growth in streams, rivers and lakes, and none of us wants to do anything to degrade the environment.

The Cost and Waste of Leaf Collecton

Many communities throughout the Northeast and Midwest spend enormous amounts of tax dollars on the collection of fallen leaves. In fact some communities around New York City such as Scarsdale will spend in excess of $1.25 million dollars annually on leaf collection. In these challenging economic times one might consider better use for this money and the science is there on several fronts to support alternatives.

First and foremost bringing the leaves to the curb increases the risk of phosphorus contamination of surface water bodies. Several monitoring studies have found that P loading of lakes and streams peaks during periods of leaf drop suggesting that the leaves are releasing the P as they degrade. Bringing the leaves to the curb awaiting collection is simply increasing the P pollution problems as much as depositing P fertilizer on paved surface essentially bypassing the natural filtration capacity of turfgrass areas.

Of course the regulating of P-based fertilizer is well known and yet there is little discussion of this existing practices effect on water quality. So, if we do not collect the leaves and bring them to the curb what should we do with them?

More than a decades worth of research consistently shows that mulching the leaves effectively into the turf canopy so that they are not in clumps on the surface has no negative effect on turfgrass performance.

Furthermore there is some evidence that leaf mulching can reduce weed problems such as dandelion (see ShortCUTT Week 29; September 29, 2008). While the mechanism of this is not completely understood I suspect of we continue to study this issue more benefits will come to light. In the end, simply mulching the tree leaves into the turf is the most cost effective and environmentally friendly practice to implement at this time of year.

Source: Cornell Turfgrass Short CUTT, Week on the headline, which will take you to the Cornell Web site where you can sign up for Short CUTT. It's a great source of information about turfgrass in the Northeast and New England.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Maybe we should ban deer

Here's a quote for you. It came from the Edmonton, Canada, Journal newspaper. The object of the article is weed & feed, you know that combination of fertilizer and weed killer that many of us have been using on our home lawns for decades.

See if you think this sentence in the article is a bit — just a wee bit — over the top:

"The problems associated with the spreading of weed-and-feed granules are well- documented, encouraging gross over-application of pesticides containing a nightmare of toxins linked to a long list of terrible ailments affecting humans and wildlife alike."

OK, so this isn't related, but I thought it was interesting anyway: Last year car-animal collisions (mostly deer) killed 223 motorists or their passengers in the United States. Where's the "ban the deer" movement?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Having won the lawn care fight, is foresty & ag next?

In spite of rigorous pesticide testing procedures by the Canadian government (among the most rigorous in the world), Ontario Province will almost certainly pass a province-wide ban on the use of almost all commercially available chemical lawn care pest controls this coming spring.

Jeffrey Lowes, Director of Government & Industrial Relations, M-REP Communications, says a recent survey suggests that when the ban is implemented it could cost the Province anywhere from 3800 to 9100 jobs.

Says Lowes: “The Ontario Government is unable to recognize their policy is based on the false claims of the activists. The same activists are now in the process of targeting the agricultural sector . . . They have already held planning meetings on how to target the forestry industry. Given their success and support by the Liberal’s, the damages caused by these groups will continue.”

Click on the headline to view a recent conference focusing on the use of pesticides in agriculture, sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

North Georgia: more menacing, but it gets less mention

You can't help wondering about life's ironic twists, even the small ones.

For example Anaheim, CA, averages a mere 14 inches of rainfall annually. Anaheim was the site of the Irrigation Association Conference and Exhibition this past Nov. 2-4. To everyone's surprise, two of the three mornings of the event, it rained at the Convention Center there.

Meanwhile, I'm talking with Ed Klaas, president of the Georgia Irrigation Association at the event, and he's telling me that Atlanta and the rest of north Georgia, which averages more than 50 inches of rain annually, is still in a drought. In fact, Lake Lanier, the manmade reservoir northeast of Atlanta and the city's primary source of drinking water, is at a record low. It's lower in fact than last December when the local news media was writing almost daily about the lingering dry spell and its affect on the region, and especially on the Green Industry there.

The Atlanta drought, which continues, is now old news. Even the media says so in a recent article in the local press. Click on the headline for the latest on the drought. — Ron Hall

Monday, November 03, 2008

Long arm of the law nabs long-ago lawn offender

If you don’t mow your lawn, the long arm of the law will track you down and put you in jail, which begs the question: Is there a statute of limitations for not mowing your lawn?

MyFox Atlanta reports Amy Parker, a resident of Gainesville, GA, was arrested this past Friday because of a complaint and a fine arising from not mowing her yard four years ago. Apparently a neighbor complained, resulting in the violation.

Parker, according to the article, still owed $35 (apparently an “office fee”) after paying the $290 fine for not keeping her lawn mowed. She paid the fine but says she didn’t know about the “office fee.”

The law certainly hadn’t forgotten. And, counting up penalties, that fee had risen 10-fold to $325, and a judge (and this is tough for me to believe) signed a warrant for her arrest.

Parker ended up spending four days in jail until her husband could pay the fine, said Fox News

Reminds me of the parking ticket I failed to pay in Fremont, OH, back in the day (way back in the day). I forgot about the ticket, which I think was just a dollar or two. I might have tossed it or I might have forgotten to pay it; I don’t remember.

But I do remember that I had forgotten about it until weeks later when a deputy sheriff came knocking on my apartment door with a warrant.

That one unpaid parking ticket cost me a morning in court, a day of work and a $16 fine, which was a lot of money for me then. (After reading about Amy Parker, I now consider myself pretty darn lucky I didn’t get some serious jail time.)

Click on the headline to see a video of Amy Parker, who seems like a nice person, in her own defense.

— Ron Hall