More Choices in Wood Decking

We frequently receive questions about what the best material to use for new decking. There are several products out on the market, each with their own benefits and drawbacks:

Redwood, Cedar: These two softwoods are traditionally used for wood decking. They have a nice appearance, but require staining and upkeep to look their best. Because they are softwoods they also weather and eventually rot faster than some alternatives.

Composite Decking: Composite or Plastic Decking is a synthetic product made of a composite of wood particles and plastic. Is requires much less maintenance than traditional softwoods, and is rated for a longer life span. The drawback of the composite decking is its appearance. While new technologies and products are available that are more realistic looking, they still do not fully approach the beauty of natural wood.

Hardwood Decking: Brazilian Walnut (also known as Ipe or Pau Lope) is a tropical hardwood that is several times stronger, denser and heavier than softwoods. It is highly fire resistant and has great structural properties. Unfortunately it is also the most expensive of the three options. The wood has a beautiful appearance stained (like that of a fine interior hardwood floor) but requires continual repeated staining in exposed areas (once per year). If the wood is not stained it can be treated with a wood seasoner (Seasonite) and allowed to turn silvery gray (think weathered teak).

A Decking Article from Bob Villa

-Trex Composite Decking

-Evergrain Composite Decking

-Mataverde Ipe (Brazilian Hardwood) Decking

A Better Way to Treat Aphids

We recently received a call from one of our newly completed landscape projects. They were calling to express concerns that aphids were eating their newly installed landscape plants. As such, they wanted us to spray to stop the infestation.

This reminded me of an interesting book that I read on permaculture, Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. In the book he explains, “Insects that feed on plants reproduce at staggering rates, quickly surging to astronomical numbers. But the insects that prey on these pests reproduce more slowly and are far fewer in number.” He goes on to say, “that predators always occur in much smaller numbers than their prey and the predator we are looking for is ladybugs [in the case of aphids]”. The problem with ladybugs is that just about the time the ladybugs reach the numbers necessary to control the aphids, the gardener notices the outbreak and sprays insecticide. This kills most of the aphids and the ladybugs. The fast breeding aphids recover within a few weeks, but the ladybugs that have no food until the aphids are in good supply, remain at critically low numbers. Just when the ladybugs feeding on the small population of aphids begin to breed again, a gardener sees that some aphids are still out there. Fearing another plague he sprays again, really hammering the struggling ladybugs. As Hemenway sumises, “A few rounds of the cycle and the ladybugs are all dead, while some aphids are bound to survive.”

This is why we need to practice patience when spraying insecticides. Sometimes we have to let nature take its course and that means having to tolerate aphids on our roses in order to give the predators a chance to kill the infestation. Sometimes spraying is not the answer, patience is.

A Better Way to Treat Aphids

We recently received a call from one of our newly completed landscape projects. They were calling to express concerns that aphids were eating their newly installed landscape plants. As such, they wanted us to spray to stop the infestation.

This reminded me of an interesting book that I read on permaculture, Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. In the book he explains, “Insects that feed on plants reproduce at staggering rates, quickly surging to astronomical numbers. But the insects that prey on these pests reproduce more slowly and are far fewer in number.” He goes on to say, “that predators always occur in much smaller numbers than their prey and the predator we are looking for is ladybugs [in the case of aphids]”. The problem with ladybugs is that just about the time the ladybugs reach the numbers necessary to control the aphids, the gardener notices the outbreak and sprays insecticide. This kills most of the aphids and the ladybugs. The fast breeding aphids recover within a few weeks, but the ladybugs that have no food until the aphids are in good supply, remain at critically low numbers. Just when the ladybugs feeding on the small population of aphids begin to breed again, a gardener sees that some aphids are still out there. Fearing another plague he sprays again, really hammering the struggling ladybugs. As Hemenway sumises, “A few rounds of the cycle and the ladybugs are all dead, while some aphids are bound to survive.”

This is why we need to practice patience when spraying insecticides. Sometimes we have to let nature take its course and that means having to tolerate aphids on our roses in order to give the predators a chance to kill the infestation. Sometimes spraying is not the answer, patience is.

Oil Prices & Energy Sustainability

With oil hitting $60 per barrel, one has to hope that eventually we will push for more sustainable energy sources on the small and large scale. The difficult thing to know is where we stand with our current oil based economy.

I have been following this issue closely for the past few months and the predictions give a wide range of possible scenarios. Some experts say that we reached a peak in oil production and that as the lines of supply and demand cross, with no extra production to fill the gap, that we will see a spike in oil prices. A few months back analysts at Goldman Sachs forecast the possibility of $100+ oil in the near future. That would obviously have severe ramifications for the US and world economies.

Conversely, US agencies such as the USGS and EIA (Energy Information Administration) predict oil supplies that will not peak until sometime between 2020-35. This is truly a different forecast than the pessimistic forecasts of the more conservative energy experts.

Unfortunately, it seems the only way we will know any thing conclusive is after we have gone past peak production. What we do not know is if there will be a prolonged plateau instead of a peak, when the peak will happen, and what other energy sources (Natural Gas, Nuclear, Hydrogen Fuel Cell, Wind or Solar) will be able to pick up some or all of the slack.

We do know that US production has peaked (early 1970’s) from around 10 million barrels of production a day to a current production of 5 million barrels. It is from this peak that many forecasters predict the world oil peak (using a model know as Hubbert’s Peak).

This is a very interesting subject for us. Obviously our fixed business costs and stream of work would be adversely impacted by such scenarios as $100 oil in the near future. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

ASPO_2004.png
The organization ASPO predicts that oil production will peak around 2007.
Copyright Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Newsletter

Oil Links:
EIA
Hubbert’s Peak
Goldman Sachs “Is There Life after $60/bbl?”
Google News Oil Prices


David Allen- Learning Blackbelt Productivity

Here is another great resource that has been influential in our office that has helped us increase effectiveness and efficiency. Author and productivity master David Allen’s books Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything give a great system for organizing everything that needs to get done in a system that works. Allen’s basic tenet- get things out of your head (or your ineffective system) and into systematized processes that work consistently and effectively.

One of the things that differentiates Allen is that the books go beyond the theory of “Getting Things Done,” he walks you through the processes with some great tools. The tools are as simple as a basic tickler file to make sure you don’t forget your dentist appointment on Monday, to more advanced gadgets like his firm’s Getting Things Done Plugin for Microsoft Outlook.

As you can tell we are big fans. Find out more at the David Allen Company website or read David Allen’s blog for more information.


CLCA Awards

I attended the California Landscape Contractor Awards Last night (CLCA) for our region, which includes Marin and Sonoma County. We were fortunate to win an award for a design-build project we completed this last year. There was a lot of tough competition and beautiful projects. See photos of the project below.

CLCA1
Brazilian Hardwood Deck and Cable Railing

CLCA2
Arizona Flagstone Entrance Pathway and Deck

CLCA3
Brazilian Hardwood Entrance Gate and Arizona Stripstone Wall

 

Postcards from the Road

Well this is a feat of our mobile technology. I am posting this entry from I-5 on my Blackberry. We made the jump from regular Nextel Phones to Blackberries for our management staff. It has made keeping track of emails and meetings a breeze. It beats the days when we used to haul around a laptop and cell phone with data connection to check mobile email.

We have always been early adopters at our firm. We had some of the first digital cameras for consumers on the market and we were one of the first firms with a website in our industry and area.

It sure shows have computers have advanced from unstable and bug ridden machines, to stable and powerful communications tools.

Charles Prowell Woodworks

Wanted to share a great woodworker I found in an Internet search, Charles Prowell Woodworks out of Sebastopol in Sonoma County. A great website and beautiful detail and artistry (see gate below). We haven’t used them in one of our projects yet, but the next time we have a client who wants a high quality gate or craftsmen fence we will give them a call.

http://www.prowellwoodworks.com/
charlesprowell.jpg
Image from Prowell Woodworks Website
http://www.prowellwoodworks.com/gate/g_20.htm


Service Headache

Sometimes it seems like companies are just trying to beat off their customers with a stick. Take for example one of our large stone suppliers. Every time there is an adventure in itself; changing policies, incorrect billing, incompetent and untrained employees. The list goes on and on. We spend tens of thousands of dollars with this vendor every year. What it does do is make us do it look for other outlets for stone products and use the service oriented companies whose price may be a bit higher.

It’s something that we notice with contractors as well. Working with another contractor on a recent project was a frustrating experience. After unanswered calls and missed meetings it wasn’t a hard act to follow to look great in the eyes of our client.

Not to be overly promotional, but this is something we try to stress as a point of difference. With cell phones and Blackberries quick and seamless response has become even easier. I just wish many of the other companies we deal with had the same emphasis.


Great Planning Software

Wanted to share a great planning tool that we use in our office for brainstorming, planning and to-do lists. The software is MindManger by MindJet located locally here in Larkspur http://www.mindjet.com/. The software allows you to quickly brainstorm, lay out visually to do lists and planning. It also works well as it integrates directly into Microsoft Office and Outlook. We use it throughout our company for planning purposes and recommend it for anyone looking for a great planning tool. There is a full feature 21 day trial available on the MindJet website.

Filoli

I am on my way today to Filoli, or Fight Love and Live. It is a renoun garden
on the Peninsula founded by gold mining barons. Filoli is a compound version of
owner William Bowers Bourn II motto “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow
man; Live a good life.” Find out more about Filoli at their website http://www.filoli.org/. I will post pictures in our
Great Parks and Gardens Section of our portfolio upon our return.

Filoli Visit

Upon returning from Filoli today in Redwood City the trip was well worth the
visit. The estate is well cared for especially considering that it is maintained
by the State. There was plenty of staff making sure the garden looked its
best.

The estate itself is a Georgian Mansion, which to me did not jive with the
mixed Oak Woodland of the peninsula where it is located. But I was not there to
see the Mansion.

The garden was a great mix of plantings, hardscape and water features and I
would recommend them to anyone wanting to visit a great garden in the Bay Area.
It is clear why Filoli is considered one of the great estate gardens of
California.

See the photos below, and I will work on a larger gallery for our Gardens and
Parks Section
http://www.oclandscape.com/gardens/gardens.htm

Filoli http://www.filoli.org

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filoli3.jpg

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