Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Perennial peanuts being readied for Florida landscapes, including replacing turfgrass

Here's a news release from the University of Florida where researchers are developing varieties of perennial peanuts to be used as landscape groundcovers or low-input lawns replacing turfgrass.

UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has released two rhizoma perennial peanuts for ornamental use, Arblick and Ecoturf. They are formally announced in the current issue of Journal of Plant Registrations.

Both grow low to the ground and produce dense green foliage with small yellow-orange flowers, said Ann Blount, an associate professor with UF’s North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna.

The plants were released into the public domain, so anyone may buy, sell or grow them.

Ken Quesenberry, a retired UF agronomist who’s studied the crop for years, points out that some plants marketed as perennial peanut do not grow from communal root systems, called rhizomes.

Those root systems help the plant withstand heavy foot traffic and allow them to bounce back from winter frost. Sometimes called pintoi perennial peanut, the non-rhizoma plants are suitable for South Florida but aren’t as cold-tolerant as rhizoma varieties, he said.

Researchers didn’t breed the plants—instead, they collected wild specimens in South America in the 1950s, Blount said. For decades afterward, UF agronomists Tito French and Gordon Prine studied these and other perennial peanuts as potential livestock forages and hay crops; in recent years they began providing samples to commercial sod producers.

UF is evaluating almost 40 rhizoma perennial peanuts, some of them suited to ornamental use, he said. Researchers hope to identify shade-tolerant varieties, which would expand the crop’s potential for home lawns.

Quesenberry said it’s anyone’s guess whether perennial peanut will ever rival turfgrass in popularity. But the legume will probably get attention in communities with water restrictions, he said.

The perennial peanut is adapted to subtropical and warm temperate climates. In the northern hemisphere, this would include locations below 32o north latitude (Florida-Georgia state line) having a long, warm growing season.

Those of you in Florida wanting to know more about using rhizomal perennial peanuts in the urban landscape can check out a guide from the University of Florida authored by Robert E. Rouse, Elan M. Miavitz, and Fritz M. Roka. Click here for the Guide.

Images courtesy the University of Florida

Monday, June 28, 2010

'Denialism' too often trumps science

SAN ANTONIO — Michael Spector, a reporter and author of the book “Denialism,” expressed his concern about the public’s fear of science including vaccinations and genetically engineered food and their role in society today at the American Seed Trade Association’s 127th Annual Convention here.

“People are anxious about the future and they don’t understand who is right and who is wrong,” Spector said. “Nothing in the world is without risk and this is something that American agriculture doesn’t address.

“There is risk. When we get in a car, 50,000 of us are going to die just this year. That doesn’t stop us from driving. Whatever our actions are, there are pluses and minuses that must be weighed.”

Spector said genetically engineered food has been planted for 20 plus years on numerous hectares.

“Another word for genetically modified food is ‘food,’” he noted. “Everything has been enhanced thru time—keeping the good and getting rid of the bad. Genetically engineered food is just a more precise way of doing that.”

Agriculture and the seed industry have products with benefits that are truly remarkable, he pointed out.

“The seed industry has the tools that almost no other industry has,” Spector told convention attendees, who are gathered June 26-30 to discuss and learn about seed industry issues. “There are tremendous achievements such as engineering foods to have fewer fats and healthier oils, in a nation that is so addicted to food, is outstanding.”

Spector explained that there are plants that have been modified with vitamins that would help many people in developing countries around the world, but they are rejected based on fears.

“This is a way to feed people who need to eat food,” Spector stated. “But, opposition is so severe and so fierce that it stops plants from going into the ground. Vitamin A rice is one example. There is a severe deficiency of Vitamin A, but opposition has put a stop to planting the Vitamin A enhanced rice. Products and developments such as these would save millions of human lives.”

While reporting and writing about scientific issues, Spector observed that people cling to what they believe is reason to deny or run away from something.

“Like every technology, things can be used for good or bad,” he said. “Technology moves us forward, not backward.”

He defined “denialism” as embracing fiction instead of the reality of every day.

“We embrace it because the alternative makes us angry,” Spector explained.

Businesses in the agricultural world that want to get their products accepted need to do a better job, he said.

“For too long, scientists, agricultural people, pharmacists and government have believed if science is on your side then that’s enough,” Spector said. “That’s not the case. Look at vaccinations. Why is half of the United States not vaccinating their children for woofing cough? Eventually polio could come back. Why? Because it is in other parts of the world and we have airplanes. This could happen if we don’t start doing a better job.

“We could pretend this isn’t a problem but that is disgraceful and it’s fooling people. We need to move away from embracing fear to embracing reality.”

Spector believes that in order for people to embrace reality, the scientific and agricultural communities need to start talking.

“Pharmaceutical companies are terrible about this,” he said. “They are in such a defensive crouch; they don’t want to talk about anything. Others will talk and those who talk and communicate get their story across.”

Agriculture has an amazing story, but people don’t understand it, Spector mentioned. He encouraged convention attendees and others in the agricultural community to start talking.

“Get out there and talk about what you are doing and what your products do,” he said. “We have a semantic problem and we need to address it. Reach out and talk to kids. Talk to everyone.

“Talk about what would happen if there wasn’t farming. Talk about what the world would look like without roads, without automobiles. I know what that world is like, because I spend a lot of time in Africa. When tomatoes grow, they go bad because farmers can’t get them to the market.”

For a billion people to go to bed hungry every night in this world and for us to try to prevent that situation from changing is an enduring shame, he said.

“We’ve got the science and we can change this, but it will never happen or be accepted if we don’t talk about it,” Spector explained. “We have to be willing to acknowledge and talk about the theoretical risks. It’s scary. There are downsides and we need to be willing to talk about them. I believe the benefits far outweigh the downsides.”

“I went to fancy farmers market a couple weeks ago in New York and there was guy selling milk,” Spector told. “But it wasn’t just regular milk; he was selling raw milk. One of the greatest advances we’ve had in this country was to pasteurize milk. To go to a fancy market and buy fancy milk and have some guy selling me raw milk is wrong. I hope you will do your part and help stop this.” — New Release from the ASTA

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Study says natural pesticides can do more harm than synthetics

Arsenic is a natural element and a deadly one if ingested. Lead, which is certainly natural, can do incredible harm, especially to youngsters. Even common table salt, which almost all of us have on our dinner tables, can result in death if taken in excess.

Many people (too many?) see the word natural as connoting safe and benign, whether for humans or the environment. I don’t know why this is so. Indeed, if you consult your Mirriam-Webster you will see that the neither word safe or benign appear in the 15 or so definitions of the word natural.

But the perception that natural is safer than synthetic or is better for the environment, especially in terms of chemical plant protection products, figures large in the rational of many in the activist community, especially in Canada where a well-organized, well-funded coalition of activist groups are on a mission — and to this point successful one — to take common chemical turf/landscape pest control products out of the hands of homeowners and even professionals that have (from all appearances) used them to good effect for decades.

OK, so what is this leading to?

A recent study by University of Guelph researchers claims that natural pesticides could cause more environmental damage than conventional chemicals.

"These data bring into caution the widely held assumption that organic pesticides are more environmentally benign than synthetic ones," said a synopsis of the paper published in the most recent edition of PLoS ONE, an online magazine that publishes medical and scientific research.

For a recent article in the consumer press about the study click here.

To access the results of the study published in PLoS ONE, click here.

If you already know all you need to know about chemical plant protection products (whether natural or manmade), and nothing you can read will ever add to your vast knowledge or change your opinion on the subject we apologize for wasting your time. Sincerely. — Ron Hall

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Do these irrigation/landscape tech salaries sound right to you?

I’m not sure how accurate these averages or how they were obtained, but here goes anyway. My guess is that they’re greatest value lies in showing that the wages for landscape and irrigation employees differ significantly by region.

You might say "Duh, that’s a no-brainer. " Fair enough but I thought you might find these salary averages interesting anyway.

The numbers come from the website I selected for the following market for no other reason than they’re in different parts of the country. Visit the website you can probably find the salaries for your metropolitan market, as well.

Landscape tech —Las Vegas $20,000; Atlanta $24,000; Boston $25,000

Irrigation tech — Las Vegas $27,000: Atlanta $32,000: Boston $33,000

Lead groundskeeper — Las Vegas $36,000: Atlanta $43,000: Boston $45,000

Nursery manager — Las Vegas $34,000: Atlanta $40,000: Boston $42,000

Grounds worker — Las Vegas $21,000: Atlanta $25,000: Boston $26,000

Landscape laborer — Las Vegas $19,000: Atlanta $23,000: Boston $24,000

You'll find a more authoritative breakdown of industry salaries in the next Landscape Management magazine State of the Industry Report. Be on the lookout for it.

Source: — Ron Hall

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Former PLCAA leader Jim Brooks dies

We were saddened today to learn of the death of James Richard Brooks, 69. A note from Tom Delaney of the Professional Land Care Network informed us that Jim died Monday, May 3 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the Embracing Hospice facility in Cumming, GA.

Those of you that have been in the lawn care business for more than few years probably remember Jim Brooks very well. A tall, handsome man with a deep resonant voice, Jim served as executive director of the Professional Lawn Care Association (PLCAA) in the 1980s, leading the Association during the period of its greatest growth. In total, Jim worked in the turfgrass industry for 17 years.

An excellent speaker and an accomplished amateur actor, Jim stayed very active after leaving PLCAA playing tennis, performing with local theater and devoting hours in services to the elderly in his community of Marietta, GA.

Jim received his undergraduate and masters degrees from the University of Kansas where he was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity. He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Marilyn, and by two brothers, two sons and two grandchildren.

We remember Jim fondly and send our belated condolences to his family — Ron Hall

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

NY State Go Green program seeking to change an industry?

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is announcing a “Be Green Organic Yards NY” program that will reward businesses that do not use synthetic pesticide and other materials prohibited by organic conditions in an agreement that the DEC is crafting.

The reward?

It’s the right to use the “Be Green” service mark and to be listed as a green service provider on its website. The thinking is that consumers will access the website and hire lawn care or landscape service providers who agree to use products allowed by the program.

The program was just announced and it looks like the DEC has a lot of work to do before it is ready for launch, although apparently it intends to begin offering training for the program this fall.

There’s something about a state agency promoting a program whose aim is to bend an industry, in this case the lawn care industry, to its particular mindset that I find disturbing. It looks to me like bureaucrats looking for something else to meddle with.

But I’m not in the lawn care business in New York, and nobody from any government agency ever calls seeking my opinion, so I’ll leave it up to each and every one of you to decide for yourself if this Go Green program is a good idea.

Check out the details of the program on the DEC website by clicking here and shout out what you think. — Ron Hall

Monday, June 07, 2010

Landscaper comes up with colorful gay pride creation

KEY WEST, FL — Landscapers can be very creative as evidenced by John Mumford who teamed with artist Rick Worth and a handful of helpers to “landscape” Mount Trashmore here. They didn’t use plants, pavers or any of the other traditional landscape materials; they used buckets of paint, 87 gallons to be exact.

If you’re curious about what they came up with to kick off PrideFest, which starts June 9, click on here and see their colorful 120-ft. by 60-ft. creation. — Ron Hall

Friday, June 04, 2010

American Veterans' Lawn Care now on active duty

OK, what's the proper protocol? Do we salute our lawn care provider first and pay later, or pay them first and then salute?

The new American Veterans’ Lawn Care Service, based in Tyler, TX, sounds like a pretty neat idea. From the little bit we could learn about it, it appears to be both a professional lawn care company and also a program to help military veterans needing a job.

Its Facebook page describes it’s a non-profit organization consisting of American military veterans “that will shape up or maintain your yard, pool and surroundings with military precision and pride!”

Vietnam veteran St. Mark Holmes created the company and, according this recent report on KLTV in Tyler, TX, he is hiring other veterans to take care of lawns in East Texas.

From the images on the company’s Facebook page, it looks like these guys mean business when it comes to lawn care. — LM Editors

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Plant some vegetables for your clients — they'll love it!

I take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut fresh leaf lettuce from a large clay planter in our backyard whenever the wife or I want a salad for lunch or dinner. I planted the lettuce seed, a combination of green and red-leaved varieties, in potting soil left over from the previous season. The package of seed cost me $1.19, and has provided us with a near-continuous supply of tender, fresh lettuce for more than a month and has been incredibly easy to tend. Two weeks ago I planted the remainder of the leftover seed in a hanging basket, which will provide us with several nice large salads when the other lettuce is finished.

I planted several short rows of peas in early April, again from a single package costing $1.19. Those plants are almost ready to yield what appears to a bounty of plumb, juicy snow peas, meaning we’ll eat the pods and all. In addition, our recently planted half dozen pepper plants (all different varieties), four egg plants, four broccoli plants, five celery plants and half dozen tomato plants (again different varieties) promise similar fresh vegetables.

Our yard is very small, 50 ft. by 50 ft., with a shaded, themed cement patio surrounded on three sides by a flower garden (a garden that earned Vicky first place in the city garden contest in 2008). You can correctly infer from that that we’re hardly vegetable farmers. Even so, each year we prepare a planter or two of leaf lettuce and clear several sunny little corners on the property for other vegetable plants and await the bounty, which is usually enough by mid to late summer to share with neighbors as well as supply our needs until frost arrives again.

The point of this blog is not to crow about what a wonderful landscape we have (it’s modest by almost any measure) or what gifted gardeners we’ve become (we have our share of disasters) but to suggest that some of your clients might very much appreciate a tiny little gesture such as planting them a nice decorative container of leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes or another of their favorite vegetables.

That small, kind gesture might just land you a customer (and a friend) for life, considering the state of the economy and growing concerns over the source of our food, including the distances that it is shipped. — Ron Hall