Tree Energy

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When I'm having a less-than-awesome day during the winter here in Minnesota, I like to think about roses. No matter how frightfully cold it gets outside, you can drive to your local Target or Cub Foods and find roses, lilies and a multitude of other delightful flowers that you can take home to enjoy in your own winter den for about ten dollars. It seems like a minor miracle that this treat is available to us at such a bargain while the roses planted within our local landscapes often must be buried underground or covered in straw or leaves just to survive the season.

The largest commercial rose producer outside of California happens to be located just down the road from Natural Creations in Plymouth, MN. Len Busch Roses has been in business for nearly fifty years and has become the largest supplier of roses in Minnesota, supplying flowers to more than 1,000 florists in the midwest. Producing the highest quality flowers for their customers is the ultimate goal at Len Busch Roses, and their continued growth and commitment to innovation is the reason that our paths have crossed. When Natural Creations removes tree branches or brush from a job site, we deliver it to Len Busch Roses. There it is processed into wood chips and used as fuel for a gasifier, which converts the solid wood into combustible gases. This reaction occurs at about 1000 degrees and is carefully monitored and controlled for efficiency. The system produces virtually all of the heat needed to operate the greenhouses throughout the year and in addition to the environmental advantages that this closed-carbon system offers there have been significant cost savings in fuel costs.

Before Len Busch Roses started this relationship with local tree care companies, brush and wood chips were primarily taken to other yard-waste facilities or piled up and burned by many companies. While composting these materials, as is done at most yard-waste sites, is certainly a preferable practice to burning, both methods are failing to utilize the energy that is captured during the gasification process. The capture of energy through gasification is considered a closed-carbon system because the combustion of the wood breaks the carbon bonds within to produce heat energy. The byproducts of the reaction are then reabsorbed by growing trees as they take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce the sugars that the trees or shrubs convert into their woody tissues. Other sources of energy that we commonly use, such as natural gas, are extracted from the earth and then released into the atmosphere by their combustion which results in a net gain of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning that it traps heat within our atmosphere. Research continues to link the massively increasing amount of carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere to the increasingly volatile weather events of the last years and shifts in climactic patterns, the most dramatic example of which is the depletion of the polar ice cap.

If you're around my age, you remember following Will Steger's expeditions as he and his team travelled by dogsled across the Arctic as part of elementary school science. I can't think of anything cooler that we learned about than that as we followed their course and progress, learning about the conditions they braved and dangers being constantly confronted. A place so far away and foreign, yet related to Minnesota by ice and cold was an ideal setting for the imagination of children, and undoubtedly sparked passion in many young scientific minds. A few weeks ago a small crowd braved a local snow and ice storm to see Will Steger speak about those days and more recent trips to the Arctic ice. An expedition to the North Pole is no longer possible by dog sled today, and the reduction of the ice caps is so dramatic that it is has to be seen to comprehend (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/thick-melt.html).

In the face of giant obstacles, small efforts coalesce into the movements that impact the world, and there are clearly changes that we can all adopt in order to preserve the lakes, rivers, forests and fields where we spend the time with people we love. A big step in caring for these things is understanding where we get the energy to fuel our lives, and where we dispose of the waste that all people generate. Join Natural Creations in this effort to recycle trees and shrubs into sustainable energy by supporting the local tree care companies that participate in this awesome program. We also hope that you'll take a second look at where you buy the roses, tulips, lilies, snapdragons and other gorgeous floral delights that brighten our long winter here and support local companies like Len Busch Roses that are pairing economic and environmental responsibility.

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Pat Etzel (left) of Len Busch Roses with staff from Natural Creations

Winter Pruning in Minnesota

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winter trees.jpgMaybe now that winter has set in a little you are getting that Minnesotan urge to bundle up and venture outside into your cold and snowy yard. Why not warm yourself up a bit by working a little while you're out there? You can do some good for the health of your trees and shrubs while you're at it.

Perhaps you've heard tree care companies extolling the virtues of winter pruning already. Sure, there can be some salesmanship involved in pushing winter tree work, but there are plenty of sound reasons to have pruning and removals done during the cold months here. Perhaps the greatest benefit is the frozen ground. Machinery, falling branches, and even foot traffic cause soil compaction in your yard that can be largely avoided by waiting to traverse until the ground has firmly frozen. Damage and costly turf repairs can also be avoided. Other times using a lake for access may be an effective means of reaching a difficult section of a property or provide a more efficient route for brush removal.

The next great part about pruning in the winter is that there are few to no leaves on branches. The absence of leaves reduces weight and space when hauling, which is more energy efficient and cost effective. The missing leaves also provide a much better look at the structure of the plant that you are pruning, making it easier to see where there are competing leaders or rubbing branches that should be removed.

Late winter, shortly before bud break occurs, is biologically the best time in our season for most types of pruning. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, this is because the wounds caused by pruning will be exposed for only a short time before new growth begins to seal the wound in Spring. Some common Minnesota trees, such as Red and White Oak, are much less susceptible to pathogens during the winter because the insects that transmit them are dormant. If you are unsure about what type of tree or shrub you are dealing with and what other plant health factors to consider when dealing with high value plants in your landscape it is often prudent to contact a professional arborist, horticulturalist, or your local Extension Service for help. With a proper plan, plant pruning and protection can provide your landscape with plenty of picturesque tree and shrub specimens.

The Landscape Laboratory is Open!

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I love landscapes. From a thoughtfully created backyard space where friends share an evening campfire or watch a sunset on a simple bench to the grand cathedrals of our nation's national parks, landscapes can define our lives in so many ways. It's part of who we are, wired deeply into the genes of humanity. Some of us feel the strength of this connection more than others and for this we will enjoy tremendous satisfaction is the places we love. We are also filled with the greatest sorrow when those places are threatened by the advancement of humanity.

What do we do? Stick together! Nature-lovers can be happiest in solitude or with a small group of friends enjoying a tranquil place and time. It is the isolation from the congestion and frantic pace of society that can free our minds and souls when we feel lost. Still, it's important to realize that it is crucial for us to make time to share our experiences and education with other who care, that our efforts might be magnified and strengthened. I am opening this space to connect with other people who love life on earth and want to make it better. That's a pretty broad scope, but that should provide plenty of common ground between us. I'll provide weekly content from my experiences and those around me in hopes that you and I will keep learning and making our lives and the lives we touch that much better.

New design launched using Movable Type

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Our web site is sporting a new look and feel thanks to Movable Type and the Professional Template Set. The Professional Template Set makes it possible for just about anyone to get up and running with a new web site using Movable Type. It is literally as easy as just a few clicks. Just pick a new for your web site, select the Professional Template Set and publish. Then viola! a new web site. Thank you Movable Type!