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SMART IRRIGATION MONTH

July 26, 2014: Welcome, rather belatedly, to July - Smart Irrigation Month! It's a time when we focus on the issue of water conservation and making irrigation systems more efficient, I have been busy doing that, which explains my tardiness in getting out the word to my faithful reader (sorry, Mom).I'm even too busy to write something so I'm adding a water conservation flyer from Ewing Irrigation, wholesale distributors of irrigation and landscape supplies. It's a lot more interesting than anything I could write.

Water use poster

IRRIGATION START UP AND HOW TO MAKE A FORTUNE IN STOCKS

April 13, 2014: Once again it's that time of year to turn on and tune up your irrigation system. Forecasts are for a hot, dry summer this year. As I have in a past blog entry, I'd like to tell you how to properly do that. Unlike the past blog, where I not only told you how to get your irrigation going but also revealed the meaning of life. This time I'd like to reveal something a little more mundane and wordly, how to beat the stock market and making a boatload of money! (*Past performance is not necessarily indicative of results) First,let's talk about starting up the irrigation system.

Your irrigation system has been winterized, as it should be. There have been winters that really haven’t necessitated winterization. Our ground only freezes a couple of inches deep at best and a well installed irrigation system is at least 12” deep everywhere, but not all irrigation systems are well installed. To not winterize a system is to bait the gods and that’s seldom a wise strategy. In winterization, the water flow to your irrigation system has been shut off at a main irrigation shutoff valve or at your irrigation backflow. The irrigation lines are probably also drained through the use of manual drain valves located at low points in the irrigation system or have been blown out by the use of compressed air.

The spring startup is turning the water back on, pressurizing the lines, and seeing if everything works. Sounds pretty simple and is . . . . if done properly. So here are some steps to reviving your irrigation again.

1)Before you turn the water on, first locate your drain valves and shut them. They’re typically located in 6”diameter round plastic boxes with green lids. Sometimes they can be located in the boxes that your irrigation valves are in, just upstream of the valves.

2)Now to turn on the water – sssllloooowwwllllyyyy crack open the main shutoff valve or turn one of the ball valves on your backflow. Fully and quickly opening a valve sends a wall of pressurized water racing down pipes that can blow them apart or at least weaken the joints for later failure. As you crack open the valve, you’ll hear the whine of water as it squeezes through the small opening you’ve made. It’s screaming to be let go and bring life to your landscape , but you must be strong! Do not let it fully escape! Go in the house and have a cup of coffee, watch a game, or read Wordsworth, anything that will occupy 15-20 minutes. If you come out and it’s no longer screaming for freedom, then the water has filled the pipes and is satisfied and you may and must fully open the valve. Partially open valves will cause a lack of pressure in your sprinkler system.

3)If you have drip irrigation in your irrigation system, your next step is to find the drip irrigation valve box(s). These will be rectangular boxes (~11 x 17”) and they house the electric valve, a pressure regulator and a drip filter. It’s the drip filter we’re looking for and it resembles an inverted extra large wafer ice cream cone (not the pointy sugar cones but the flat bottomed wafer kind except the bottom isn’t flat, it’s rounded and . . would you excuse me for a minute?) . . . . Thank you for your patience. I had sudden irresistible craving. That drip filter cover will unscrew from its base and underneath will be a round mesh screen. Take this out and wash the slimy green algae, sediment or whatever off the screen with a garden hose and reinstall.

Now check the ends of your drip laterals, the black or brown pipe that delivers the water to your drip emitters. These lines, in normal operation, are usually closed with a screwable cap or a plastic figure eight end closure. You want to make sure the ends of the lines are open so that water may pour through them and flush the system out when the drip valve first comes on. Drip systems depend on water without sediment in it that can clog the tiny orifices of emitters. Flushing out sediment through the lateral pipes is an excellent way to keep your drip functioning properly.

4) Now you’re ready to test the valves. Go to your irrigation controller and manually, from the controller, turn each zone on in sequence. There’s usually a manual advance button on the controller but there’s a lot of different irrigation controllers out there. You may need to find the manual to figure out how to turn on your valves. As you fire off each zone, go out and observe it in action. Are all the heads popping up? Are they spraying exactly where they should be and not overspraying? Do you see water gurgling out of the ground? Now’s the time to note any problems, by zone, you see and also to mark them (I use cute little multi-colored irrigation flags to mark trouble spots, but any kind of stake will do).

5) Close back up the ends of the drip laterals.

6) If there no problems, then life is good. Enjoy your spring. If not, then it’s time for repair and that’s another article.

So, you're probably thinking, now that I know how to get the water flowing in my irrigation, how do I get money flowing into my brokerage account? It first starts by taking the money you've saved from repairs for improperly starting up your irrigation system and investing it smartly. Ah yes, clever reader, already you asking what do you mean by investing smartly. Does that mean fundamental analysis, qualitative analysis, value investing, GARP? What is the secret? . . . . Monkeys! In an April 5, 2013 article by UPI in a study conducted by Cass Business School in London that when monkeys were randomly select stocks from a computer their choices, when pitted against a traditional market capitalization weighted index, won every time.

I got to thinking about getting a monkey but then I began considering the downside of it. Like where would you keep the monkey, what and how much do you have to feed it, and maybe monkeys are emotional needy and it'll use up alot of time bonding and so forth? There has to be an easier way of random stock selection. . . . and then I found another article about using darts to pick stocks. Evidently the Wall STrret Journal held contests between 1998 and 2002 where staffers threw darts at stock tables to choose stocks to track and that these were compared to the picks by professional money managers. The short story was that professional money managers only did slightly better than the dart picked ones and when you factored in the professional management fee their returns were worse.

I work with irrigation pipe and I work with lawns. What if I sharpened a piece of PVC pipe into a lawn dart? . . And what if I pinned pieces of paper out on a lawn with a different stock ticker symbol on each? Take some steps back and launch my new lawn dart in the air and the paper it pierced I would buy. Lawn darts! Definitely less messy than a monkey. I'm trying it this spring. If successful, you can expect to see next spring the start-up of my new business, Lawn Fortunes Financial Planning. Until then, take care of your irrigation. It may some day take care of you.

WINTER PLANT DEPRESSION

February 12, 2014: Are your plants depressed? It's been a tough winter this year in western Oregon and, with the recent heavy snows, it's easy for your plants to start feeling depressed. But, before you start imagining me wearing a tin foil hat, I'm not talking about the mental kind of depression, I'm talking about the snow-bending-down-limbs kind of depression. This kind of depression, if left untreated, leads to limb breakage or permanent deformation.

As I gaze out at the 14" of snow that's fallen on my place, it's interesting to notice how various plants react to snow loads. The Douglas fir and western red cedar, as evergreens, catch a lot of snow and the branches are heavily laden and bending severely down, but their limb structure is such that they can do that without a lot of concern about breakage. As the snow melts and gets heavier , their springy branches shed the snow quicker than other plants. More upright branching plants, such as the Mugo pines and arborvitae in my yard, do not shed the snow very well and they end up bending and sometimes breaking. My rhododendrons seem to fare better but none are a tall (>6')upright variety, so that might make a difference.

There are whole scientific treatises, complete with gobs of formulas and graphs , written on snow and ice loads on trees. I've waded through one of them and, trust me , you don't want to go there. But , I garnered one interesting fact. Trees that are native to high snow areas, like the Cascades or the Rockies, adapt by having slower growth and greater branch deflection (droopiness, in plain English). They're built not to catch a lot of snow and shed it quickly. Many of the landscape plant materials we use have the opposite characteristics - fast growth and upright structure, which make them susceptible to the infrequent dumps of snow or ice storms we get here in the Pacific Northwest.

If your plants are depressed, the key to therapy is immediate action. It only takes a few hours of being bent over for the limbs or stem to be permanently deformed. Arborvitaes are particularly sensitive to bending. If you don't take care of them right away then no amount of pruning or propping is going to cover up the bare spot in the hedge. The prime therapeutic tool is a broom. Go out and knock the snow off the branches. (Here's where a tin foil hat is handy as it sheds snow well and, should you become buried, it's easier for rescuers, but not aliens, to see the shiny cone.)

Though snow can cause branch breakage, ice does far more damage. Ice can increase the weight of a branch by 30 times! Ice damage particularly hits deciduous trees harder in our area. Ice storms tend to be fall events for us. The earlier in the fall the ice storm usually the greater the damage. Some trees are late in shedding their leaves or some trees have corky branches, like sweet gum, and these increase the surface area for ice to accumulate and thereby increase breakage potential.

The treatment for limb breakage is to prune off the broken limb back to a sound branch crotch. Time is not as critical, but within a year is a good idea.

I originally started off this blog entry with the short intent to tell to knock the snow off your bushes, but I've gotten carried away and now it's sounding more like some longwinded scientific treatise, which it wouldn't properly be with graphs. So here's my graph:

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THE HUMONGOUS FUNGUS

January 19, 2014: Bigger than the blue whale, bigger than Godzilla, in fact the biggest organism in the world to date resides in Malheur National Forest of eastern Oregon. It's a fungus called aptly the Humongous Fungus by the Forest Service. It's estimated to cover 2,400 acres or 4 square miles in size. It's estimated to be over 2400 years old, but some say it may be as old as 8650 years old (making it also the world's oldest organism)

Fake!!Fake!!I get various trade related e-zines and this came in one as an article from my irrigation vendor. I've always had a fascination, which I'm sure I share with many, for the world's biggest things = the worldest biggest tree (the General Sherman in the Sierra's), the world's biggest chicken (Big Snow in Australia), the world's biggest chicken nugget (51 pounds from Secaucus,NJ, which unfortunately has been eaten now), but all these pale in comparison with the World's Biggest Living Organism.

The fungus, Armillaria ostyae, is from a genus of fungi that have had other contenders for world's biggest fungus. Collectively the genus goes by the name of "honey mushrooms" or the less appetizing appellation "shoestring root rot" . Far from being benign, the fungus attacks the roots of conifers and hardwoods as a parasite and slowly crawls its way under the bark eventually girdling the tree and killing it. Now, less you be expecting to see a giant mushroom towering and devouring trees, it will be disappointing to know that honey mushrooms are only about 2 to 4 inches tall and can only be seen for a week or two in the fall. The massive monster that is the body of the fungus is a web of fungal tendrils called mycelium that resides hidden in the soil. . . . . and that's probably the reason why there isn't a massive tourism industry developing around it.

The discovery of HuFu (my new name because I'm tired of typing humon . . . you know) is fairly recent (2008) and this year for some reason it's hitting the news everywhere. I am proud to say I have been an armchair tracker of big fungi for several decades. In the history of big fungi spotting, 1992 was a year without parallel. First one was found in Skamania County at the base of Mt Adams (1500 acres). Shortly afterward they discovered a bigger one in Colorado. Then the town of Crystal Falls, Michigan announced they had the world's largest fungus covering . . 35 acres. Maybe they do that new math in Michigan, but despite their somewhat dubious claim, they did an excellent job of cashing in on it. They feature an annual Humungous Fungus Festival (maybe they do new spelling there too) with attractions such as fungus fudge, fungus burgers, fungus tee shirts and many more fungus named products. Their fungus even had airtime on the David Letterman show.

I am proud that Oregon is home to the rightful title of world's largest organism. I am proud we have resisted its commercial exploitation. A simple Forest Service sign will do for us. I don't expect this will be the last we hear of giant fungi contenders. The Armillaria genus, with its 10 species, is common on every continent in the world, excepting Antarctica (and I really wish they'd stop calling Antarctica a continent 'cause you always having to make an exception for it). Someday a bigger fungus will be found and HuFu will be a has-been. But for now, Oregonians can take great pride, in our modest way. I think maybe even its the time Oregon thought of frying up a world record chicken nugget. I would go see that!

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PSITHUR MUSIC

Nov . 8, 2013: I learned a new word today. If you don't use a new word, you lose it. In fact, some educational psychologists say you must hear and use a new word at least 35 times before it becomes a kept portion of your vocabulary. The word I learned is "psithurism" (1) (sith-err-iz-um) which is the sound the wind makes when moving through trees. How on earth, I thought, am I going to manage to use the word "psithurism" (2) thirty five times in conversation or in prose. Perhaps in a greeting, "Good morning! Such a nice day with a gentle psithurism (3) in the air". But then folks might look at me a little odd and I'm not expecting to greet 35 people psithurectically (4) anytime soon. But then it struck me - my blog! On a blog you can subject the world or your reader(s-maybe) to all manners of repetition. Yes I will blog about psithurism (5). Psithurisms (6) a good idea, I think.

I discovered this word (psithurism (7)) on an online seminar for arborists. The author of the online article (on psithursim (8)) talked about how the great bards of the past, Longfellow, Thoreau, Liu Chi had been inspired to write great prose and poetry by the sound of wind moving through the trees (psithurism (9)). How they had waxed poetically about how the trunk, form and leaf texture of a tree affects it's tonal, or shall I say psithurectic (10) properties. How we arborists might want to look at the technical side of psithurism (11). How one group of people hear the wind (psithurism (12)) . . . . . I'm getting tired of this as , I'm sure, are you, so let's get it over with - psithurism, psithurism, psithurism, psithurism x 20) . Anyways, how one group of people hear the wind and anaylze it's effects on our soul, and another, like we arborists, analyze it's effects. Perhaps there's a little bit of scientist trapped in a poet's soul and a little bit of poet in the scientist.

Is there a difference in the psithurism (36) of a Doug fir forest, with its short needles and dense crown and a lodgepole pine forest with its large needles and open crowns? Does rough bark make more noise than smooth bark? Does an oak in summer sound different than an oak in winter? I don't know. But then I've never stopped and taken the time to psithurize (37) the moment. Next time I'm pruning a tree I believe I will.

F & P