Garden Notes : Human impact
"The best time to prune is when the tool is in your hand." - Polly Hill
There is a great pile of holiday gift books, of which more by-and-by, but for today, may I suggest a little pruning? That holiday excess, the indulging in which we all bemoan after the act, is beginning to make itself felt. Slip outdoors and inhale some fresh air to counter it. Numerous shrubs and branches mashed from the recent snowfall await discovery when the furor of the holidays has subsided. Because of all the above - it is opportune to prune.
I find myself reviewing periodically a practical pamphlet on the craft of pruning written some time back by Louisa Hill, the daughter of Julian and Polly Hill. It can be reduced to the why, safety, tools, intent, and general principles.
Gloves, glasses or safety goggles give protection (as a lilac bush and a scratched cornea recently forced me to re-learn.) Most importantly, prune where you can see what you are doing, to avoid those "oops!" cuts everyone has made but regrets. Use tools that are sharp, to avoid hand and wrist fatigue, but do not prune when tired or distracted.
Photo by Susan Safford
Consider what you are pruning for: to repair damage? To contain a plant at a certain size or to prevent it from interfering with another? To promote fruiting or blooming? To rejuvenate? To organize a messy plant? Masters prune to accentuate aesthetic qualities that may be obscure to many of us but which bring pruning into the realm of art form.
Helpful in maximizing blooming of shrubs is the Rule of June 30: If it blooms before June 30, prune right after flowering. If it blooms after June 30, prune in winter or early spring.
What's the connection?
The mainstream media has been slow to report on an eco-disaster said to contain 40 times more contaminated sludge than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Early Monday, Dec. 22, residents of Harriman, Roane County, Tenn., received an early Christmas present. The earth dam containing a 40-acre coal-ash impoundment pond used by a coal-fired power plant, TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant, failed and released an estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash sludge upon the landscape. The contaminated sludge and water cover 400 acres. There has been a virtual media blackout and officials insist there is but minor pollution.
The site is at the confluence of the Emory and Clinch Rivers, later flowing into the Tennessee, which supplies the drinking water for millions of residents in the Tennessee Valley, including most of Chattanooga. The Clinch River is formed in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia. It constitutes, with the Powell River, the only ecologically intact headwaters of the Tennessee River system and is the number one hotspot in the U.S. for imperiled aquatic species. Combined with the rare plants, mammals, birds, and insects that live in the watershed, the Clinch Valley and its rivers support 30 federally listed threatened or endangered species.
Coal ash and slurry are the normal byproducts of coal-fired electricity generating. The ash, a byproduct of coal burning, includes heavy metals, carcinogens and neurotoxins such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, thallium, and lead. Coal plants around the country, most near rivers that supply the water they need to operate, store coal ash in unlined embankments and ponds. In some areas coal ash is recycled as fill material.
Over the past eight years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has vigorously resisted efforts to have coal ash, such as the Harriman slurry, regulated as a hazardous material (consequently requiring storage in approved facilities). An unknown number of ash impoundments contained by inadequate earth dams - EPA officials acknowledge they are unsure of the number - exist around the United States.
Additionally, we learn that in the final days of the Bush administration, the EPA plans to gut the mountaintop-mining rule protecting streams. Since 1983 an EPA regulation has, theoretically, prohibited the dumping of spoil that results from the destructive coal mining process known as mountaintop removal, within 100 feet of a stream or waterway,
What is mountaintop removal? According to Wikipedia "Mountaintop removal mining (MTR), often referred to as mountaintop mining/valley fills (MTM/VF), is a form of surface mining [involving] extreme topographic change to the summit or summit ridge of a mountain. It is most closely associated with coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains, located in the eastern United States. The process involves the removal of up to 1,000 vertical feet of overburden to expose underlying coal seams. The overburden is often scraped into the adjacent drainage valleys in what is called a valley fill.
"Because of its destructive nature, MTR is controversial and is protested by environmentalists, local residents, and others. Controversy over the practice stems from both the extreme topographical and ecological changes that the mining site undergoes, as well as from the storage of waste material generated from the mining and processing of the coal. Proponents of MTR point to its efficiency, job creation, and increase of flat land in areas where there is often little."
Again, what does this have to do with us, or with gardening? Go to the website of ilovemountains.org and click on What's My Connection and enter your zip code. You learn where and how the power flowing through the grid to your home is generated. You can watch videos that allow you to see where it comes from and the people and towns that are being destroyed - no nice gardens, clean water, organic produce, healthy children - in exchange for the amenities we on our end of the grid enjoy.
Is our way of life forcing us to trade away a viable world? We are bombarded continuously with fantasies about the cleanliness and safety of nuclear and coal fueled power. In 2009 we can resolve to use less.