Plain as Dirt: Seeds for growing a ‘greener’ garden |

Plain as Dirt: Seeds for growing a ‘greener’ garden

Tom Glass

Like many in the valley, and manifold nationwide, I’m out of work.

As I’m not beneficiary to other ways and means, in an effort toward rectifying my profitless situation, I’ve written a couple of pretty solid business proposals, examined buying greenhouses in Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming and even looked into closing out an 80-acre field full of trees down on the Front Range that are available for the cost of digging them up. No go. Can’t get all worked up ” I would be growing and selling the wrong crop.

Despite rumors to the contrary, I’m not burnt out ” yet. There is still some leather left on the saddle. But, I will be 50 in July ” on 7/11 ” both lucky winners on a first pass shooting craps and both losers if they show up on the second roll or beyond. At my age, I’m past my second roll. The odds favor the house. No worries. I’ve beaten long odds before growing perishable crops dependent on the weather.

What’s more, I’ve found fallow ground that is fertile. Here’s how I found it:

Last week, I had dinner with a couple ” he a banker, and she a commercial-properties manager from Kansas City ” along with a broker of wine collections from Connecticut who once, not so long ago, made his living leading trekking parties through the Himalayas. It proved to be an interesting dinner but not for the expected reasons.

Halfway through dinner, I asked those at the table, in all sincerity and with all due respect for the depth of their wisdom, for their opinions on the potential for viable, economically real solutions to managing carbon emissions.

None of them was aware of anything particularly worrisome pertaining to carbon emissions. Nothing. Goose eggs ’round the table.

These are not narrow, stupid people ” not by anyone’s standards. On weekdays, they arrive at their desks to the Wall Street Journal, subscribe to Time and The Economist, read the local paper and, most often, catch the evening news. So how can this be? How can they know nothing of it?

With that moment at dinner in mind, I realize many of us have been preaching to the choir, but the choir is deaf, dumb and blind. They sing silently to themselves by rote, fond memory, while we live in unprecedented times lacking a score.

My mind was in a quandary to explain their oblivious states. I arrived at the following: They self edit ” cut out of their lives ” any information that does not fit their desired purposes. If information does not square with their world, it is not necessary; it is clutter. Einstein didn’t know his own phone number. Same thing.

Holy smokes. We’re in trouble. We are seriously in trouble.

So, what do you do with all that? Start here:

To begin with, essential to summers in the Vail Valley are colorful flower gardens which enrich the lives of residents and guests alike. Obvious testimony to that is the significant investment and property owners here traditionally lavish on abundant, exuberantly blooming gardens, baskets, pots and window boxes.

These flowers are indeed essential to summer. However, the cost to the environment is steep ” no, staggering.

In one winter month, by my calculations, a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse, a very small greenhouse, heated by natural gas to 68 degrees on a cold night of 20 degrees and insulated to an R value of 2 ” a very efficient greenhouse, but not a very efficient structure ” emits as much carbon as a 1,700- square-foot home, the average size home in America, emits in one year.

Add in the diesel fuel to ship peat moss from Canadian bogs and the resultant flowers to market, the pesticides, the fertilizer, the water, the runoff and all the plastic containers, and you wind up with a product that is only green on the surface. There are better substitutes for all of the above. You just aren’t offered them.

Does this mean you shouldn’t buy flowers? No, I’m not suggesting that at all. I love the industry and the people in it too much to throw them under a bus. It wouldn’t be growing anything green. Of all people, I believe flowers are absolutely essential to a good quality of life.

Furthermore, just as the various departments of wildlife look to hunters and fishermen to interpret changes to flora and fauna and then fund remediation of problems, gardeners help our increasingly urbanized and generationally removed-from-agriculture populace retain a sense of what is right and good about tilling the earth.

But the public can’t proceed in a meaningful way toward a sustainable earth basing its opinions on false assumptions and a lack of information. You read it here first. Almost all spring flowers sold today are grown in a foolish manner, and we unknowingly support that folly.

You must demand that changes be made in how plants are grown, or out of habit and economic necessity, growers will continue to destroy our greater quality of life, if not, in fact, a portion of our very existence. Growers aren’t going to change in meaningful numbers or in meaningful ways without your lead.

So how can you effect changes in the near future?

– Begin this year by refusing to accept the plastic containers. Forty years ago, bedding plants were dug from reused, wooden flats and sold wrapped in old newspapers at the sales counter. It was awkward and ugly, but it worked fine for preceding generations. There was a certain charm to that practice.

– Reuse containers. Plant into last year’s baskets and pots.

– Be willing to pay more ” production facilities need to retool, and the mass producers in the industry operate on exceedingly slim profit margins of 2 percent to 3 percent. You will have to pay to play.

– Actively advocate and support subsidies and investment tax credits for renewable energy for the greenhouse industry. It is a very direct way to quickly cut profligate gas consumption and carbon emissions.

– Plant native or drought-tolerant varieties suited to here. Cut back on irrigation.

– Fertilize less, and dig composted manure into your flower beds. There are plenty of cattle and horses in Colorado willing to oblige your needs ” often free for the asking.

– Expect less in perfection from your lawns.

– Reward with your business the few growers practicing sustainable agriculture ” they are typically small operations. Help them grow in size and number.

As for me, this is the start of a mission to plant the seeds of a better garden. I humbly hope you see the wisdom in helping it grow.

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