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Share the Wealth with Rake and Take

leaves 2_small

Fall is offi­cially in the air. Cooler breezes, frost on the roofs, and leaves. So many bright col­ored, beau­ti­ful leaves that crunch under foot (Why do leaves change color?). In honor of this time of year the Howard County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers kindly reminded me of a great pro­gram they pro­vide to res­i­dents and it only made sense to share it on our blog.

The Rake and Take Pro­gram does for leaves what Freecy­cle and CraigsList does for all that other stuff in your garage. The Mas­ter Gar­den­ers pair up rak­ers (those peo­ple who have leaves they don’t want or need) with tak­ers (those who can use the leaves for com­post and mulch). Bril­liant, isn’t it?

So you have an abun­dance of leaves, do you? You are a Raker — all you need to do is con­tact the Mas­ter Gar­den­ers and reg­is­ter for the pro­gram and bag up your leaves. They’ll find you a match with a Taker and the Taker will appear to pick up the bagged leaves from your curb. The Mas­ter Gar­den­ers also main­tain sev­eral com­post demon­stra­tion sites and may oth­er­wise col­lect the leaves for use at these sites. This pro­gram is espe­cially nice for those of you who aren’t eli­gi­ble for the County pro­vided curb-side yard­waste pickup.

Or per­haps you are in need of some leaves to amend your com­post pile or mulch? All you do is con­tact the Rake and Take Pro­gram and head off to pick up the glo­ri­ous gold amend­ment from your matched provider, the Raker.
Not too many leaves? Then we rec­om­mend leav­ing them to break down and add nutri­ents to the soil around plants or pick them up and start your own com­post pile at home.

Howard County Mas­ter Gar­dener Rake and Take Program

Howard County Curb-side Yard­waste pick up

More options for your yard, includ­ing com­post­ing info: http://livegreenhoward.com/land/gardening-landscaping/

~Lind­say DeMarzo
OES staff
Octo­ber 2012

Getting Stuck in a Rut

We all do it. It’s how we live. We eat, we grow, and then we get on a tread­mill to cut back our size. Then the cir­cle starts over again and we eat and eat (because it just tastes so good!) only to obses­sively work out some more. Sur­pris­ingly enough, this seems to make us only a dis­tant rel­a­tive to grass. That’s right, for­get the apes. We are like grass. Turf grass to be specific.

We water and fer­til­ize and water some more until the grass grows and needs to be cut. Then we repeat. Only prob­lem is we have a ten­dency to force-feed the grass and then obses­sively cut it. Who­ever decided this cir­cu­lar waste of time and money was what the “cool kids” should be doing was wrong. Let’s think this through and rec­og­nize that every time we attach the sprin­kler to the hose or bust out the fer­til­izer bag that it’s lead­ing to another hour mow­ing the lawn in the heat and buy­ing more gas and oil for the mower. Let’s not force our obses­sive behav­iors on nature. For some rea­son Amer­i­cans seem to have fallen head over heels for fer­til­izer and its mag­i­cal abil­i­ties. Well it’s not magic. In fact it’s a cir­cu­lar rut we seem to be stuck in and have forced on our out­door spaces along the way. Unfor­tu­nately, neg­a­tive effects of this evil rut spread quickly to our water ways and harm more than just our free time and pocketbooks.

This blog could go on for days, but here are the basics on get­ting out of the rut of lawn care (you’re on your own for your per­sonal habits):
– Don’t fer­til­ize unless you have brand new grass (i.e. it’s as fine as baby’s hair).
– Water only new grass and only in the very early morn­ing or late evening to avoid wast­ing water through evap­o­ra­tion.
– Test your soil before you put any­thing on your grass.
– Reduce the size of your lawn by plant­ing natives that don’t need extra water.
– Embrace dor­mant brown grass and put away the sprin­kler in the mid­dle of sum­mer.
– Save money, air pol­lu­tion, and time and let your grass grow an extra inch before mow­ing.
– Don’t mow on poor air qual­ity days.
– Embrace clover in your yard. The bees love it and so should you.
– Never mow to the edge of the stream. Leave as many feet as pos­si­ble to grow naturally.

More info on gar­den­ing and land­scap­ing with the envi­ron­ment in mind can be found here: http://livegreenhoward.com/land/gardening-landscaping/

~Lind­say DeMarzo

July 2012

Sure You Want Bugs Gone?


Lately I have heard sev­eral radio com­mer­cials adver­tis­ing prod­ucts that claim to kill out­door bugs above and beneath the ground. Does any­one else find this a ter­ri­fy­ing idea? I don’t think you need a degree in Ecol­ogy to think that this has to be bad news. Do the pur­chasers of such prod­ucts also want to buy bird-be-gone, butterfly-be-gone, or functioning-environment-be-gone? Well, that is what you are ask­ing for if you apply some­thing that kills bugs indis­crim­i­nately. Accord­ing to the Mary­land Exten­sion Ser­vice, “Hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent insects, spi­ders and other ben­e­fi­cial organ­isms inhabit even the small­est yards.” and “Con­cern for the envi­ron­ment, pes­ti­cide resis­tance, prob­lems with pes­ti­cide safety, and pes­ti­cide effects on non-target organ­isms has sparked inter­est in find­ing alter­na­tive means of con­trol­ling pests, while con­serv­ing ben­e­fi­cial organ­isms.” So there you have it.

My basic rule is that if insects are inside my house, they are fair game. I admit I do trap and release the ones I can catch. Luck­ily, stink bugs are slow and easy to just pick up and throw out­side. There seem to be a lot fewer this year – let’s keep our fin­gers crossed. But those small ants have got to go, they are relent­less and just plain gross. I have caulked up a few cracks and used a com­bi­na­tion of a botan­i­cal spray for indoors, an indoor baited trap, and a spray that acts as a bar­rier where the ants seem to be get­ting in. That has worked really well this year and I only had to do this combo once.

Out­doors, it seems to me that bugs belong there, and I don’t feel I have the right to go after them. My small veg­gie plot is doing just fine with a few nib­bles and as for mos­qui­toes, it is impor­tant to avoid any stand­ing water – those buck­ets, sand­boxes, etc. that sit and become mos­quito breed­ing grounds. Keep those dry and gut­ters in good shape so that the mos­qui­toes won’t breed there. Another good defense against mos­qui­toes is a fan. Mos­qui­toes are poor fly­ers, so if you are sit­ting out­side, they have much less chance to get to you if you’ve got a fan going.

Happy Sum­mer!

Elissa Rei­neck
OES staff
June 2012

Not Your Father’s Lawn

Ah, Spring. After this weird win­ter, who knows how early every­thing is going to start grow­ing and bloom­ing. I’m itch­ing to start divid­ing some peren­ni­als, mov­ing stuff around and adding new plants. It’s all good. Except for my lawn – which I hate. So this year I’m going to really put some effort into it – research, sci­ence, new ideas. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Soil Test – This is the first step. Of course, this makes sense. You wouldn’t start tak­ing med­i­cine with­out get­ting tests done by a doc­tor. Well, maybe you would, but it’s a really bad idea.

So, soil test — The Colum­bia Asso­ci­a­tion (CA) is offer­ing FREE soil test­ing. Why are they doing this? Because it turns out that most of us are using too much prod­uct – wast­ing time, money and adding unwanted nutri­ents to our local waters. Here are 2 doc­u­ments about it: soil test­ing and instruc­tions for tak­ing a soil sam­ple.

Back to the soil test – basi­cally, you take some soil from your lawn, put it in a plas­tic bag, bring it to your vil­lage cen­ter, then it is sent to a lab for test­ing. CA is hold­ing short work­shops to inter­pret the results so that home­own­ers can deter­mine what their lawns need.

If you have a lawn ser­vice, ask them to do a soil test and show you the results. Why should you pay to put stuff down that you don’t need? Actu­ally, since 1998, com­pa­nies are required to do a soil test for you and keep track of the amount of fer­til­izer used.

Pre-emergent – If you are going to spend time and money to put chem­i­cals on your lawn later to try and kill weeds, I guess it makes more sense to pre­vent them.

Many gar­den­ers advise using a pre-emergent when the Forsythia’s bloom (yellow-blooming shrubs you see all over the place in early Spring). So, that is basi­cally now.

My neigh­bor swears by corn gluten as a pre-emergent. It is organic, and works best if you keep using it for a few years. It does have some nitro­gen, and the Mary­land Exten­sion is pretty clear that IF YOU FERTILIZE, IT SOULD BE IN THE FALL ONLY. Sorry for all the Caps, didn’t mean to scream at you.

Chem­i­cal pre-emergents often con­tain a lot more nitro­gen than corn gluten, but I searched around and found one brand with 0 nitro­gen. There weren’t any in the “big box” store I went to first, but it wasn’t too hard to find. Great news start­ing this year is that many of the lawn care prod­ucts are now “phos­pho­rous free.” This recent change will help keep lots of this dam­ag­ing nutri­ent out of the Bay.

Of course, change is not easy. Many peo­ple just do what they’ve always done before, or what their par­ents taught them. But things change, and just because every­one else in your neigh­bor­hood is dump­ing chem­i­cals on their lawn 4 times a year, doesn’t mean that it works.

Cut it High and Let it Fly – I’m not sure who made up that slo­gan, but I like it. Cut­ting your lawn short stresses it out, and makes it harder for it to crowd out weeds. You would think that cut­ting it short would shorten the time before you have to mow again, but I’ve read that this is not true – grass shoots up in response, get­ting even weaker in the hot months. The let it fly part means using a mulching mower and leav­ing the clip­pings there. Clip­pings are a nat­ural source of nitro­gen (less fer­til­izer needed) and do NOT cause thatch. I hire some­one to cut our grass, so I am going to ask them to cut it higher this year. If they won’t, I’ll find some­one else who will.

Water­ing – I don’t water my lawn in the sum­mer. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could keep up with it to do any good. The type of grass most Mary­lan­ders have is not built to be green in a hot, dry sum­mer. Mary­land Exten­sion backs me up on this. They advise: “Allow estab­lished tall fes­cue lawns to go dor­mant dur­ing hot,dry weather in the sum­mer. The lawn will recover when rain­fall and cooler tem­per­a­tures return. Only newly seeded areas and lawns less than two years old should be irri­gated.” It might get a lit­tle crunchy, but so be it. If you do water new grass, it is best to water deeply, and less often. Short, fre­quent water­ing is bad for lawns because it encour­ages short, weak roots.

Whew, that’s about all I can han­dle. I’m bored with lawn talk already, and it is only March. Back to the real plants. Can’t wait to get started!

Elissa Rei­neck
March 2012

Green Infrastructure Mapping = Fun for You!

Long-Tailed Salamander

Red-tailed Hawk


Before we get into what green infra­struc­ture is or what it means for you and your back­yard, let me first pro­vide you a lit­tle insight into the painstak­ing process that we went through to pro­duce some­thing fun for you to play around with. (Trust me; it’s pretty cool — even the County Exec­u­tive is using it.)


Young Ground­hog

After over a year of painstak­ing map­ping in our Arc GIS sys­tem (mostly because our server was slower than 90’s dial-up inter­net speeds which led me to con­sider launch­ing my com­puter through the win­dow on an aver­age of once per hour), we finally, FINALLY have a draft Green Infra­struc­ture Net­work map! I can’t tell you how excit­ing it is to have com­pleted a draft map and let my pupils fall back into place in my eye sock­ets. After a year of map­ping this tedious, you would feel like a pug dog, too. And even cooler, thanks to the help of our GIS guys (who con­ve­niently switched to a new lightning-speed server about a week before we were done map­ping) we also have an awe­some inter­ac­tive online ver­sion for you to play around with and explore.

Long-tailed Sala­man­der

So what is this non­sense that almost cost more than one of us our eye­sight and san­ity? Well, it’s not non­sense at all. It’s basic ecol­ogy and bio­di­ver­sity, which we know sus­tains life, pro­vides dis­ease resis­tance, food, shel­ter, water, clean air, and oh so much more. Pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­sity and our nat­ural resources is key not only so we can see the cute lit­tle furry crea­tures and beau­ti­ful native plants in our parks, but also so we have water to drink and food to eat. It’s a bit of a cir­cu­lar effect – we pro­tect their food and water and in turn we are pro­vided with food and water. Isn’t it mag­i­cal how nat­ural sys­tems seem to have it all fig­ured out? Ecol­ogy is an amaz­ing thing.

Slaty Skim­mer

Basi­cally, a green infra­struc­ture net­work maps out impor­tant nat­ural resources (wet­lands, forests, streams, etc.) that sus­tain var­i­ous species – both plants and ani­mals – by pro­vid­ing food, shel­ter, and water for these species to sur­vive. It is impor­tant that green infra­struc­ture be a net­worked sys­tem to allow species to move from place to place. Why do they need to move, you ask? Well, they may be forced to shift due to activ­i­ties encroach­ing along the edge of their habi­tat, such as mow­ing too close to the stream bank or near a wet­land might reduce habi­tat for rep­tiles and amphib­ians and alter the tem­per­a­ture of the water thus mak­ing it too warm for them to sur­vive. Other rea­sons include fac­ing fire, famine or dis­ease, the species is migra­tory, and pro­vid­ing a pop­u­la­tion the oppor­tu­nity to breed with other pop­u­la­tions to cre­ate a stronger gene pool resis­tant to new diseases.

Green Heron

Imag­ine if our envi­ron­ments were switched. Think how dif­fi­cult it would be to find not just food, but shel­ter, water and a mate if we had no roads or side­walks and every open space and paved area was replaced with deep, dark, dense for­est patches that we needed to bush­whack our way through on foot. As humans, it would be dif­fi­cult for us to sur­vive with­out being taken out by injury, dis­ease, famine, or lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Now put your­self in the place of a Long-tailed Sala­man­der or a Green Heron (pic­tured at right). They view our built envi­ron­ment – roads, build­ings, and air­planes — just as we would view the deep, dark, dense for­est patches keep­ing us from food, water, and shel­ter. Our cars and lawn mow­ers, fer­til­iz­ers and smog become their lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

So we ask you all to take a step to become a bet­ter stew­ard of our nat­ural resources. Our online inter­ac­tive map might be fun to play with and it might have taken a whole lot of effort to fig­ure out what areas we need to work on pro­tect­ing, expand­ing, enhanc­ing, or cre­at­ing, but most impor­tantly we need you to help. Think about what you can do in your yard this year to make a dif­fer­ence and make a path­way for species oth­er­wise stuck play­ing Frog­ger between patches of forest.

Monarch Catepil­lar

Plant a habi­tat gar­den for pol­li­na­tors. Put up a bat, duck, or song­bird box. Reduce the areas you mow, espe­cially near streams and wet­lands. Install a rain gar­den. Stop dump­ing yard waste in a For­est Con­ser­va­tion Area – get a free com­post bin instead. Join a gar­lic mus­tard pull in a local for­est. Kill one less bug out­doors this year (unless it’s a stink bug). Plant only native plants this spring. Join a com­mu­nity stream clean up. Remove an inva­sive, non­na­tive plant in your yard. Plant a tree. Plant another tree. Help your neigh­bor plant a tree. Plant five more trees.

Just one thing (maybe two for a gold star) and you’ll make a dif­fer­ence to a species near you.
More on our draft Green Infra­struc­ture Net­work, includ­ing the online inter­ac­tive map: Click HERE

Help us iden­tify where species hang out by send­ing in images for the state-wide inven­tory Mary­land Amphib­ian and Rep­tile Atlas

~Lind­say DeMarzo
Feb­ru­ary 2012

Amer­i­can Toad Singing

All pho­tos cour­tesy of Sue Muller, Dept of Recre­ation and Parks. All pho­tos were taken within Howard County and all are native species found here.

Green Tip

Check your tire pressure.Increase your gas mileage by keeping your tires properly inflated.