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Eco-Beat

Is it dead or alive?

—Mike Dooley

I’m going to take a wild guess and bet that you’re ready for spring. Well, hang in there—we’re getting close. As the historic winter temperatures hit, us gardeners and landscape contractors alike are wondering what has been damaged or killed by the severe freezing conditions.

Other experts and myself seem to think that the rosemarys and Indian Hawthorns are most likely to have damage. If these plants are on the south or west of the house up against a warm wall, they have the best chance. If they are mature plants rather than recently planted, that will help also. Rosemary and Indian Hawthorn planted recently on the north side of the house are in question. Damage to such plants may not be immediately apparent, but it’s usually characterized by discoloration of the newest growth. Don’t do anything yet; wait until April when things start growing, and then give the plants a hard look. If you see an obvious dead portion, cut the plant back until you get to live plant material. Next, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer, and resume regular watering. Overwatering on a daily basis will not help, so if the plant was installed last year, a good watering twice a week in April is plenty. If these are mature plants, then once a week is about right, since it’ll still be cool at that time of the year.

Most perennials are very cold hardy, but you may think that they’re dead because they’ll be slow to return if the soil stays cold. The same guidelines will be true for perennials planted with different sun exposures. Perennials planted on the north side of the house, in the shade, will in most cases be much slower to return than perennials planted on the south side. If you try to get them to return sooner by overwatering, you run the risk of rotting the plant. Give them some water, but the ground temperature must warm up before the plant will return. Mid-April fertilization can help.

As far as plants like Blue Mist Spirea or Salvia Greggii that partially freeze back, they’ll have some damage, and that must be removed. Here’s how you check for damage on all plants. Start at the tip of a branch, and grab it with your thumb pointing up. Scratch the bark with your thumbnail. If the interior is green and moist, then it’s alive, and if it’s brown and dry, then the portion above the scratch is dead. Continue this technique, moving down the branch until you get to green wood. Once you find green wood, this is the place to cut it back. Salvia Greggii, or Autumn Sage as it’s also known, is also in question if planted too late in the season, but be patient, and cut it back heavily just like every other year. Fertilize, then water and wait. Any plant that has not at least partially recovered by Memorial Day will make great compost.

For more information, go to www.highdesertgardensinc.com.


EarthTalk®

—The Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What’s the latest research on the question of whether cell phone use causes cancer?   

—William Thigpen

Cell phones have only been in widespread use for a couple of decades, which is far too short a time for us to know conclusively whether or not using them could cause cancer. Research thus far appears to indicate that most of us have little, if anything, to worry about.

According to the federally funded National Cancer Institute, the low-frequency, electromagnetic radiation that cell phones give off when we hold them up to our heads is “non-ionizing,” meaning it cannot cause significant human tissue heating or body temperature increases that could lead to direct damage to cellular DNA. By contrast, X-rays consist of high-frequency, ionizing electromagnetic radiation and can lead to the kind of cellular damage resulting in cancer. Nonetheless, some cell phone users and researchers still worry about our cell phone usage, given how much we now use them and how little we know about their potential long-term effects.

The reason the issue keeps coming up is that some initial studies in Europe, where cell phone usage caught on a decade before the U.S., showed links between some forms of tumors and heavy cell phone usage. As a result, researchers teamed up to do a more definitive study, called the “Interphone” study, across 13 countries between 2000 and 2004. The results, published in May 2010 in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Epidemiology, indicated no increased risk of developing two of the most common types of brain tumors, glioma and meningioma, from typical everyday cell phone usage. Study participants who reported spending the most time on their phones showed a slightly increased risk of developing gliomas, but researchers considered this finding inconclusive due to factors such as recall bias, whereby participants with brain tumors may have simply remembered past cell phone use differently from healthy respondents.


Captivating snow in the Chama Valley.

Forester’s Log©: “Snow is next year’s trout”

—Mary Stuever

I have a new fascination with the white stuff. While most people don’t associate New Mexico with deep snow that blankets the ground for months, I have recently moved to a part of the state where it does. Here, snow often damages buildings and closes highways. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains just shy of the Colorado border, the Chama Valley is a winter playground with breathtaking views that—this time of year—are highlighted in bright white.

My cross-country skis and snowshoes are getting more trail time this season than the past several winters put together. Still, the natives are worried. Although there has been more snow in my yard since I lived in Questa, New Mexico in 1983, valley residents are concerned because the snow is below normal levels. For winter sports enthusiasts, the snow has been well timed. We greeted the New Year with road conditions that severely hampered much travel that did not include skis or chains and had perfect snow conditions and sunny days for the annual Chama Chile Ski Classic, held over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend.

Snow, however, is not just about today’s scenic views and sporting opportunities. The snowpack is the savings account for next summer’s water. Perhaps my friend Ti Piper summed up this concept best when he declared: “Snow is next year’s trout.” Sound fishy? Well, Ti is not only passionate about fishing, but he also makes his living teaching, writing, and proselytizing about fish and fishing. Though it may be pretty obvious that fish need water, the rest of us are also quite affected by water shortages.

Snowpack makes up about 50-80 percent of our water supply. Therefore, scientists from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) keep close tabs on snow levels in the western United States. With a network of both manually and automatically measured snow sites, the NRCS has been building the record of snow accumulation and water release since 1935. There are many ways to look at the statistics, and anyone with Internet access can find plenty to ponder. For example, in my new home river basin, snowpack is 97 percent of normal. Not too bad. However, if you look at the month of January (most our snowpack was formed in December), we only have received 20 percent of normal precipitation for the month. Overall, the area is running about 82 percent of normal for the current water year. (A water year runs from October to September.)

Snow—and the water that will come from it—affects people in many ways. Like to eat? Well, the farmers that produce your food are hoping for lots of snow to fall in the mountains.

Snowpack also influences next year’s fire season. Among natural resource agencies, seasoned fire management officers often have a reference mountain and a reference date. This local wisdom translates: If the snow melts off “fill in the blank” peak by “fill in the blank” date, we are in for an extremely active fire season. Being a newcomer to these woods, I have yet to learn the local lexicon, but I’ve got my eyes open, and I’m watching the mountaintops.

Mostly though, I am just wishing for more snow.


Farming Wannabees Take Notice

Lynn Montgomery

An expedition of Resilient Placitas scouts recently checked out the field in Algodones that has been offered to us to grow crops. We were very surprised at the setup and offer. The owner is being very generous in paying for some of the gas to run the generator and other (some major) expenses. Our opinion is that if we could provide enough human energy, this could actually work splendidly. A generator runs a pump that supplies sprinklers over 1.5 acres, plus there's another hose line that supplies a drip system. Some crops, like chile and squash, don't like to be sprinkled, and some need more attention than the sprinkler system can allow. This setup is ideal for beginners, as having things perfectly level isn't required and irrigation is like falling off a log.

The field is located directly south of the Algodones power plant, which is at the north extreme of the Village. One can see it while driving by on I-25. Local resident and farmer, Paul, met us there. He was extremely helpful. He is well connected to the community so we can access equipment and other necessities, plus he will hold our hands through the season, drastically reducing a lot of head-scratching on our part. Paul took cores of the soil and dug down as far as he could to see if there is a hardpan close to the surface. The soil is a deep, silty-sandy loam that passed the friability test with flying colors.

Most of the agriculture in Placitas consists of very small plots. Our micro-climate also precludes growing some of the necessary field crops we need to be resilient. Once in awhile we dry up and can't produce much of anything. Historically, Placitans moved down to one of the nearby Pueblos in drought times and grew crops there. This kind of backup is necessary if we are to reestablish our agriculture meaningfully. This offer is a golden opportunity for us to return to the Rio Grande Valley and regain our agricultural roots.

Michael Crofoot is our lead person on this project and has done a superlative job thus far. But, he now needs to know if we can provide enough people who will hang in there for the duration. Please contact Lynn Montgomery at sunfarm@toast.net, or call 867-9580, if you want to become a real farmer. Some might not have time to take full part, but we will be having planting and harvesting days when we would have a large pot-luck with a big crowd. We hope that there will be a lot of fun and celebration along with all the tasks and learning.

     

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