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Recent information has shown that certain plants used in landscape plantings may be increasing allergy problems for a home or work place.  These plants may be causing allergies due to their pollen production.  We need pollen.  Our world would have significant problems very quickly if pollen was not produced, and if pollinators no longer transported the pollen from one plant to another.  Where things go bad is when commercial manipulation of certain plants, especially trees in urban areas, causes over-exposure to pollen and mold spores in the human population.  The result is an increase in allergy-suffering.  Thirty years ago fewer than 10 percent of Americans had allergies.  The official figure today is that 38 percent of us now suffer from allergies.  Not too many years ago, death from asthma was fairly rare.  Today it is all too common, and is considered epidemic.  Asthma has now become the number one chronic childhood disease in America.  Furthermore, there is new data coming in that shows a strong connection between over-exposure to pollen and/or mold spores and increases in other diseases such as heart disease, autism, pneumonia, and reflux disease.

 

Biodiversity (planting more of a variety of plants in our landscapes) is one way to help solve this problem and help limit allergenic exposure.  Almost any species of plants can eventually cause allergies if it is over-planted enough.  All too often in the urban landscapes of today, we see that landscapers have used the same old plants over and over again.  Pollen allergies are worse in cities than in the country, despite the fact that there is much more total green matter in the countryside than in the city.  Plant selection has been a main problem.  There are many native trees and shrubs used in our landscapes.  Maples, oaks, locusts, poplars, willows, catalpas, birch, junipers, and many more native species are extensively used which is often better than using other more exotic species that are out of place for our particular climate and environments.

 

Unfortunately, the plant breeders and propagators have discovered how to “sex-out” the trees and shrubs used.  They have learned to use only male plants, ironically, as “mother plants,”  Many plants for sale now are called “seedless,” and they are in effect, all-male clones.  The effect of using all male cloned trees and shrubs in our landscapes simply translates to an excess of allergenic pollen.  Only male flowers produce this airborne pollen.  Unisexual female flowers produce no pollen.  Why the Emphasis on Male Plants?  Horticulturists knew that female plants produced seeds, seedpods, and fruit. This “litter” falls on sidewalks and creates a “mess”.  By using only asexually (no sex involved) propagated cultivars (cultivated varieties), they were able to create “litter-free” land­scapes.  These require less maintenance, and are very popular with city arborists and the public.  In the U.S. today, four of five of the top-selling street-tree cultivars are male clones.

 

Tom Ogren, an expert in allergy-free gardening, has provided more details about pollen allergy issues in “The Right Native Plants in the Right Landscape Means Fewer Allergies” article which can be downloaded from a recent Wild Ones Journal at www.for-wild.org/download.  For more information about Wild Ones- Natural Landscapers, a voice for the natural landscaping movement visit their web site at www.for-wild.org.  They can also be contacted by phone, toll free, at (877) 394-3954.  Mr. Ogren does consulting work for the USDA and the American Lung Association.  His web site is at www.alletgyfiee-gardening.com.  In his article, Tom suggests, “NOW is the time to start working on the pollen allergy issue”.

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“Thanksgiving is always a great time to think about food” says J. Dennis Slaughter, District Supervisor of the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District.  Dennis continues, “We are now having more urban communities seeking ways to encourage local residents to potentially raise their own food in a sustainable fashion”  “Many of these communities are sharing their ideas about how they are fostering community development through projects relating to food production and other urban farming ideas”.  Those interested in this concept can learn more about the work of a group called, “Nuestras Raíces”, a community development organization in Holyoke, Massachusetts that fosters human, economic, and community development through projects relating to food, agriculture, and the environment.  A webinar on the topic “Agri-Cultural” Community Development will be hosted on December 3, 2010 at 12:00 noon Eastern time.  A webinar is simply a training process, usually with video and audio, that people can access on the internet.  Interested participants will need to register prior to the free webinar by going to:  http://www.vitanuova.net/journal/2010/09/december-32010-nuestras-raices-agri-cultural-community-development.html.

The webinar will feature Ms. Calandrella who will be talking about “La Finca,” a community urban farm and beginning farmer incubation program; a recruitment and training model, network of farm businesses, events and culture, and youth programs.  Learn how Nuestras Raíces has worked with the Latino community of Holyoke Massachusetts for asset-based and culture-centered community development.  This webinar is part of Vita Nuova’s Sustainability Series of webinars.  For more links and details about past webinars visit the same web site mentioned above.  Register for Vita Nuova’s monthly Sustainability Series Webinars – FREE!  The webinars are held on the last Friday of each month for one hour and feature experts from around the country who present interesting and current discussions on sustainable development topics.  To learn more about Vita Nuova, a national leader in the repositioning and redevelopment of complex sites and neighborhoods, visit their website at: http://www.vitanuova.net/.

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With the title “Poisoned Waters” a recent Frontline Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) program certainly catches our attention.  “Poisoned Waters”, an investigative report with Hedrick Smith as correspondent, shows the kinds of pollution now contaminating America’s waterways, political obstacles blocking restoration of great estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, and some local strategies that have scored successes.  The documentary video was designed to stimulate public discussion of crucial issues and effective techniques of water pollution control.  It is intended for teachers, parents, and anyone interested in improving water quality in the US.  Those interested in watching “Poisoned Waters” can do so on-line, obtain other resources about the program, and learn what they can do. Visit the web at www.pbs.org/frontline/poisonedwaters .  Information to obtain a copy of the program’s DVD is at the same website or by calling PBS 1-800-531-4727.

 

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it called for America’s waterways to be swimmable and fishable again by 1983.  But our great waterways are still in peril and face new waves of pollution.  For a decade or so after the Clean Water Act, tough enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made significant gains by targeting “point sources pollution”- pollution coming out of a pipe- the EPA repaired some of the worst damage.  But the challenge today is more complex, largely because today’s pollution is nearly invisible.

 

Contaminants pervade our lives.  Harmful chemicals exist in everyday consumer products from home cleaning agents to pesticides and herbicides that we use on our lawns, to personal care products like toothpaste, deodorants, shampoos, certain soaps, and discarded pharmaceuticals.  When it rains, stormwater runoff from roads and highways carries a toxic cocktail from our trucks and cars, our farms and rooftops, our driveways and parking lots into our rivers, streams, lakes, and bays.  Add to that the enormously damaging runoff from agricultural operations across the country, primarily large livestock operations.  The runoff from manure piles carries not only bacteria and e coli into our waterways but also excess nitrogen and phosphorus, and they spawn the dead zones which suffocate crabs, oysters, fish, and other species.  The third major challenge comes from growth and the sprawl of development- millions of people crowding into the land that lies close to our major waterways and paving over thousands of acres of forest and farmland.  These congregations of people not only cause gridlock and ugly sprawl, but spells disaster for the quality of water, unless we learn how to mitigate the impact of so much unchecked growth.

 

Solutions do exist.  Local communities are cleaning up old industrial sites.  Watershed coalitions are recovering natural habitat for endangered species.  Grass roots groups have curbed uncontrolled growth.  Suburban counties have adopted “Smart Growth” strategies.  Others have tackled the difficult issues of better land use to protect the environment.  So steps can be taken.  Each of us has an important role.  So use the video to increase your awareness of water quality issues, and then join with your local community organization, government, and soil and water conservation district (SWCD) to help clean up you local waters.

 

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Ron Lauster, Director of the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) says, “He remembers at the beginning of the Lone Ranger TV show, the opening lines included the phrase return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear”. Ron continues, “I don’t know if it is thrilling or not, but we have been getting more people contacting our office asking about raising chickens”. Just like rain barrels coming back from the past, we now have more people interested in gardening, and yes, some even want to raise chickens. Apparently backyard poultry is a growing trend throughout the US. Raising chickens is becoming more popular as Americans seek a direct connection to their food. So, if you’re interested in raising chickens, you may want to seek some basic assistance. Start by going to the “Back Yard Chickens” website at http://www.backyardchickens.com . The site also offers a “Raising Chickens 101 page at: http://www.backyardchickens.com/raising-chickens-basics.php which provides a lot of great basic information, including the care for the first 60 days and later after you get your flock established. Homeowners are first reminded to check with local government zoning and homeowner association requirements before they begin bringing home roosters and hens.

A few of the most frequently expressed reasons people raise chickens are- They are easy and inexpensive to maintain (when compared to most other pets); their eggs are fresh, great-tasting & nutritious; they provide chemical-free bug and weed control; and they manufacture the worlds best fertilizer. Some say they are fun & friendly pets with personality (yes, you read that right). Whether you raise poultry for meat and eggs or because you want to show your birds at fairs and festivals; whether you have a big flock or a few hens, keeping them healthy is a priority. Give the birds sufficient space, keep their area clean, keep food and water covered and change them daily. It also is important to keep predators away from your birds and minimize the contact your poultry has with wild birds. Additional information about raising chickens is also available from your local Purdue Extension Service office. In Marion County their web site is at: http://www.ag.purdue.edu/counties/marion and phone number is 317-275-9305

As the number of backyard chickens increases, so does the need to educate owners about keeping their flocks healthy. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (USDA/APHIS) “Biosecurity for Birds” campaign is renewing its efforts to provide concise and helpful tips to prevent the spread of infectious bird diseases such as avian influenza (AI). USDA- Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reminds owners to keep their birds healthy and free of disease: Restrict access to your property and birds. Wash your hands with soap, water and disinfectant before and after working with your birds. Clean and disinfect your clothes, shoes, equipment and hands after handling your flock. Do not share tools or equipment with other owners and know the warning signs of bird diseases. For more chicken safety details visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity.

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Now that we have had some warmer temperatures, Mother Nature is signaling it is time to start thinking spring, thinking green; and planting trees & installing rain barrels! Mark Kautz, Chair of the local Conservation District says, “It always helps each year to add some new plants to the landscape to make things even greener when the warmer seasons arrive, and also consider collecting free water to maintain the plants with a rain barrel.” The Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is again supporting community tree planting efforts by helping provide a quality source of midsized container native trees and shrubs at a reasonable level of cost for interested landowners to use in their greening efforts”. Kautz continues, “And we are continuing the Tree Cost Share Program for larger trees (in Marion County only) as well as beginning a new Rain Barrel Sale Program!” To get more details and order blanks for the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Tree and Shrub Sale, the Tree Cost Share Program, and/or the Rain Barrel Sale contact the SWCD office at 317-786-1776 or visit their web site at http://www.marionswcd.org.

The time to make your plans and order trees for spring planting is now! The local Conservation District is accepting orders for a variety of over 24 primarily native trees and shrubs for a reasonable price until close of business Friday, May 1st, just after “Earth Day” is celebrated in downtown Indianapolis. These primarily native trees and shrubs are decorative additions to the landscape, but also help attract wildlife. Interested individuals should contact the SWCD office to obtain a list of species available. Depending on species, these container trees and shrubs are available in 1, 3, 5, and 15 gallon sizes. Prices are $18 for the 1 gallon size, $25 for the 3 gallon, $32 for 5 gallon and $120 each for the 15 gallon size. The prices include sales tax. The Tree Cost Share Program provides $60 towards the cost of qualifying larger 15 gallon trees. Rain Barrels, made from recycled barrels, are $100 each. Trees, shrubs, and rain barrels orders can be picked up on Saturday, May 16th from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Normandy Farms subdivision at 7802 Marsh Road on the northwest side of Indianapolis. Appropriate program brochures that include tree and shrub facts, selection ideas, pick up location details, order forms, etc. are available by contacting the District.

The District reminds people that, in addition to the SWCD, there are many other great sources for good high quality trees and shrubs for planting, such as local commercial nurseries, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry which has small bare root seedlings available. Rain barrels are also available at a variety of places. So make your investment in the future today, and order some trees, shrubs, and rain barrels for your yard now!

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Over 100 people attended and registered at the recent Urban Farming Forum at KIB on 2/2/09.  Thank you to everyone who attended and participated.  It is refreshing to see the degree of enthusiasm for and ongoing activity in urban farming!  We hope that this site can help to sustain that enthusiasm and promote the local activities.  Please share on this blog and/or write to indytilth@gmail.com regarding events or content you would like to share.  We look forward to hearing from you and hope that you will be actively involved.

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