Sunday, August 25, 2013

Baker Park: Boat Ramp and Hobo Camp: a review

Baker Park is a boat landing on the Rogue River just above Riverside Park, the first and most central park in the city of Grants Pass.  It has an old fire station up front by East Parkside and Parkway, followed by a bench next to a sidewalk facing away from the river and toward East Parkside and the fire station.  This is the only bench in the park.  It is backed by a mass of live and dead blackberries and other weeds, which continue down the east side of the sidewalk to the parking area and bathroom.
It has a bathroom at the top end of the parking area, with a trash can outside it.  There are two more trash cans by the boat landing.  These get emptied frequently, if not daily, but the City apparently doesn’t hire people to pick up the litter that is strewn from top to bottom of the “improved” area and gets worse in the unimproved area, the vast majority of the city’s land upriver.  
It is landscaped only on the west side to its border and in the middle; the east side is allowed to be “wild”—full of blackberries and other noxious and nuisance weeds that block the view of whatever is behind them and amount to a fire hazard, particularly between the upper area and the Parkway Bridge.  The planted shrubbery is also full of blackberries, tall grass, other weeds, and litter.
Blackberries, East of the path down to the parking lot.
There is a sign on the east edge of the parking lot, telling us that the Middle Rogue Steelheaders have “adopted” this stretch of river—with trash around it and weeds behind it.  It is said that they clean only the river side itself, and only once a year, at the end of summer.  The sign is out of that territory, but the litter gets worse closer to the river.  
Groups generally adopt a piece of public property to show their civic-mindedness.  As adoption signs go, this one is very bad advertising, but it shows the true nature of recreational fishermen.  They aren’t there to work.  They’d be better thought of if they’d pick up the area in which they are fishing, before and after they fish.
Last year, Grants Pass built a wide, paved biking and walking trail to Baker Park from East Parkside, behind our relatively new “Public Safety” (police and fire) station, under the Parkway Bridge, and into the park.  The weeds close in around the path, as it reaches the parking area.
 Blackberries close in on path, east of the parking lot.
But the side toward the river becomes willows, blackberries, weeds, and litter, and there is a hobo camp a few hundred feet upstream of the boat landing.  Until this winter, they had an open willow grove with many beaten paths, shielded by blackberries.  Beyond that, a corral was constructed from willow logs in thicket growth to shield the campers.  This year, winter high water knocked down the willows with several large logs, and it has become a maze of blackberries and willow sprouts in an obstacle course of logs and limbs, with many pockets in the detritus for sleeping shelters and a few open areas.  The area is, of course, full of litter and discarded clothes and blankets. 
There is, this year, a nice shallow wading area, suitable for young children, next to the boat landing, as sand has filled in below the gravel bars on this side of the river.  But the weeds, litter, and the camp upriver make it feel unsafe even in daylight, in a city whose major goal it is to “look safe and be safe.”  “Public Safety” could start by adopting its park down the hill.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Control Insect Pests Naturally

The EPA just approved another systemic pesticide, saying that it is needed because the pests have become immune to previous poisons.  This is a losing game, as plant-eating pests can easily outbreed the poisons, while their predators and bees cannot.  Systemic pesticides, which are distributed into every part of the plant through its roots and stems, are particularly dangerous to bees, hummingbirds, and predatory insects, which rely on nectar for fuel.

The smallest pests are inherently the hardest to control in a conventional yard or farm, yet they can be easily managed in a naturally managed landscape that makes their predators comfortable and lets them breed. 

Such pests are not pestilential all the time; it is only when they infest and become a plague that they become a real problem.  If most plants that sprout in natural conditions were able to grow to maturity, they would be too small and crowded for the good of the rest of us.  Herbivorous “pests” thin most of the plants as they grow, the smallest and weakest ones first.

An infestation of any pest is a feast for any predator that eats it.  Given a chance to do their job, predators multiply as they feast, and the population of the pest crashes back to pre-infestation levels.  In a natural landscape, any infestation is a temporary affair.  When ladybugs and soldier beetles home in on aphids on roses, they don’t last long.

 Nearly mature ladybug larvae on my mature corn, with grey aphids, one week after ladybugs mated there.

A few days after the previous photo, the corn is cleaned of all but aphid trash.

Three things make insect predators comfortable: shelter; food; and water.  The shelter for many predators is leaf mulch; coarse bark works as well.  Adults and/or larvae crawl around under the mulch, eating whatever they can kill.  At night, many crawl out of hiding and stalk their prey on the plants.  Ground predators include soldier beetle larvae, ground beetles, ants, spiders, centipedes, and even earwigs, which eat fungus-infected leaves, not healthy plant tissue.

 Soldier beetle, credit  Ground beetle, credit

Since insects have little sugar or fat, their predators need an energy source like nectar, and many of them, like tiny parasitic wasps, prefer small flowers, the smaller the better.  (Aphids though, are full of sugar from sap, and piss out the excess, attracting wasps). Carrot flowers qualify, as do chickweed and purslane, chickweed in spring, purslane in summer.  Both of these low, spreading annuals are useful and edible, and don’t bother other plants much.  Deadhead your carrot flowers; they are likely to make half-wild seed that makes white, skinny roots.

Water is needed as well.  If you buy ladybugs or spider mite predators, it is important to water the tops of the plants so they can take a first drink.  Bees, wasps and birds mob sources of water in hot, dry weather.  Spider mites love dryness and shun humidity.  Sprinkler irrigation and misters are best for providing the water that your predators need, along with baths and fountains for birds.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tools every homeowner needs

6th Speech to Networking Toastmasters, 6/24/2013

Good morning, Toastmasters and Honored Guests:

I come dressed for work, with a batch of tools to show you, tools that every homeowner would find very handy to have around, regardless of whether or not you do your own gardening, or hire help.  If you hire help that has tools, it is very handy for the help to have extra tools available on occasion. 

More important, if you know what you need to have done, and have the tools to do it, you can hire workers without truck or tools for as little as $10 per hour, rather than $15 for those who have tools, and teach them how to garden right from the start.  As a garden coach I can help you figure out exactly what you need to have done, and you can tell your helpers exactly how to do it, or have me explain it for you.

I’ll start with a little gem that everyone should own, a battery powered surface sweeper.  It’s light, easy, and so quiet you don’t even need earplugs.  (demonstrate) Even if you have a gardener with this tool, having two means having twice the sweeping time; they only work about 15-20 minutes to a charge.  With it, and maybe some extra batteries, you can easily keep your pavements and paths clean between your gardener’s visits.  There are several kinds, some with smaller and more powerful batteries.  They run about $50-$98.

Another handy tool to have around between visits by your gardener is a web duster.  I have this one on a 16’ extendable pole to get webs up to the second story.  Cobweb spiders are the homeless tramps of the spider world; they don’t clean or repair their dwellings; they camp.  When a web gets dirty, visible, and therefore useless, they move on and build another one, leaving you to clean up.  It pays to hit every nook and cranny, even if you don’t see webs; the spider is in the web you don’t see yet.

These can even be operated without gloves, which is why I bring up gloves second.  You should have some to handle plants from your garden, or soil, or tools, all of which can be hard on hands.  These nitrile gloves are great because you can actually feel the textural differences of different kinds of plants; no seams; very comfortable, though a bit sweaty.  In winter, you can wear two sizes, for instance a small in a medium, and they keep your hands surprisingly warm, even when wet.

To carry gloves, tools, trash and small weeds, a small tool belt is just the thing.  This is about the smallest one Diamond sells, and I love all four pockets, the biggest one for trash.

One tool my belt cannot be without is Kengyu pruning scissors.  Once it was pruners, but these bonsai scissors can cut anything pruners can in smaller spaces. They can also be used for weeding, by cutting annuals like crab grass under the crown when they are blooming; at that stage, they have no food in their roots and will die.

Loppers come next in the line of cutters, and this model of lopper, Fiskar’s 18” gear-action lopper, can cut through nearly anything they can get around, thanks the extra leverage from this gear action.  The gear makes it possible to get the same leverage as a much longer handle, but with the short handles, you can work in tighter spaces.   They have become surprisingly hard to find; I order them these days from

Of course you should have a good, solid wheel barrow, a round shovel; a square shovel; and a garden rake, the solid, heavy kind of rake.  But rather than a leaf rake, you should have a folding rake like this.  It expands out for leaf cleanup, but narrows down to get in tight spaces and is more rigid when narrowed, so you can move gravel and dirt with it, often taking the place of a hard rake.   Thanks to this, I rarely use the heavy garden rake.

This rake works well with a hula hoe to maintain light gravel paths.  All path mulches eventually become seed beds, including gravel.  But 4 x 8 sand, actually a light, rounded gravel, can be worked with a hula hoe, cutting off and pulling small weeds, which can be gathered with a rake and discarded. 

The last tool is one you might find surprising: wide polyester cloth.  I buy it at Wal-Mart in the remnant rack for $1 or $2 a yard.  The width is important to cover a truck bed.  It can be used to line a truck for carrying loads of material; it keeps stuff from leaking out of the truck, and makes it easy to pull out the last of the load.  The same allows easy dumping of clippings from a truck.  A smaller cloth can be used to cover a load for hauling, and then cover the ground behind the truck to catch the slop during unloading.  A smaller cloth still can line a wheelbarrow so you can easily pick up clippings and dump them in a truck, or to catch dirt during digging operations, so it can all go back in the hole.

If you own a home with a yard, you should have the tools to work in that yard, regardless of whether you have someone else do the yard work.  At the very least, you should be able to blow away the debris and sweep away the cobwebs.

I yield the floor to the Toastmaster.

Stop Charging Us for Watering

Speech to the Grants Pass City Council, 8-7-13

Honorable Mayor, Council, and Manager:
We don’t have to breathe smoke until winter.  I’m breathing in my yard a lot easier than downtown, because I use misters and sprinklers to keep the smoke down.  And I’m not even watering more than necessary to keep my yard alive and healthy.  I pay about $80 extra a month to do it.  We shouldn’t have to pay through the nose to maintain our yards.
Watering one’s property with sprinklers and misters benefits oneself and neighbors by cleaning and humidifying the air.  If enough people do it, we can even make rain.  An article in Science News tells us that farmers irrigating in California cause more rain in the Four Corners area and put more water in the Colorado River to water farms in the desert.
          This should not be surprising.  It’s just an illustration on a large scale of the water cycle we were taught as children.  It works on the local scale as well.  In our bowl of a valley, when we have a high pressure inversion, water can evaporate and cause thunderstorms in our valley, if we throw enough water in the air.  When we are not in inversion, it can blow upstream and fill the Rogue and Klamath Rivers with rain.
          We used to make rain, in the ‘80s, by watering our yards and farms.  We had thunderstorms nearly every week in ’85 and ’86 when I lived here.  A lot of creeks were running year-round then that are seasonal now.  What changed?  The way we charge for water.
          The provision of water is properly a service, like sewer, not the sale of a commodity, like electricity.  The water we get from the river is essentially free; the service is cleaning and delivering it, and like sewer, is mostly overhead in plant and employees.
          Pricing it as a commodity has put us into a spiral of rising rates and dropping usage.  The city admitted this a few years back when asking for a rate increase.  The last time you raised rates, you raised the basic rate, which at least did not make matters worse.
          A few years ago, the city started charging for sewer based on winter water use rather than a flat rate per household.  The same could be done for water, rather than charging us extra for watering our yards.

          Please make this an emergency ordinance.  Let us put enough water in the air now to make rain that will fill our seasonal creeks again and put these fires out.

We Can Make Rain

A famous comedian said he was told that Las Vegas is at least a dry heat.  He retorted, “So is a match.”
          We don’t have to have such dry, smoky heat in Grants Pass.  An article in Science News shows us the way.  We can make it rain and maybe put out these forest fires around us:   “Farmers in California help make it rain in the American Southwest, a new computer simulation suggests. Water that evaporates from irrigated fields in California’s Central Valley travels to the Four Corners region, where it boosts summer rain and increases runoff to the Colorado River, researchers report online January 12 in Geophysical Research Letters….”
          We in the River City should water like our lives depend on it, because they do, and so do farmers downwind and uphill of us in the Klamath basin.   This study is just a great illustration of the simple hydrologic cycle we learned as children:  Water that falls on the ground from rain or irrigation evaporates or is transpired by plants; builds up into clouds, and falls as rain, part of which evaporates from the wet ground and thirsty plants.  More falls at higher, cooler elevations.
The more plants we grow, the more water we put in the air, because they suck it out of the soil efficiently.  That grass lawns take a lot of water is a good thing; please love and care for yours. Or plant a thirsty ground cover like creeping jenny or blue star creeper that you don’t have to mow.  
We live in a city on a river, from which we take our water.  We are relatively close to the ocean, from which our prevailing winds come, and they blow upriver.  The water that we throw into the air with sprinklers and misters cannot be wasted; we have plenty of it, and throwing it in the air makes more.  It’s so clean that you can grow pitcher plants in it.
It cleans the air where it runs and cools and humidifies the neighborhood.  It blows up river and falls as rain, filling our river and the Klamath.  It makes rain in Medford, a slightly higher elevation.  It can even make wet thunderstorms here, instead of dry lightning.  It can cycle several times in the course of moving east or even in our bowl of a valley, if we just throw enough water.
We used to do just that in the mid-eighties, when the vast majority of us were still watering lawns, and the farms around us were being fully farmed and irrigated.  I remember wet thunderstorms nearly every week when I lived here in the summers of ’85 and ’86, rather than dry lightning and forest fires.
The farmers in the Klamath cannot use the Klamath River water because the Indians have claimed the salmon’s share; they are at the top of the river, not near the end.  We in the Rogue Valley can make rain for them, and for us.  Please water your yards, and spread the word.

Cobweb Spiders Camp

A tool every resident should have is a web duster, a broom on a pole with a puff head, to take out cobwebs inside and outside the house.  The “Webster” head can be found at Diamond, with a variety of poles, extendable and otherwise.  Mine has three sections and extends to 16 feet to get the eaves on the second story.

The cobweb spider is the homeless vagrant of the spider world.  Rather than build and repair a strong, long-term dwelling in a good location as does the classic orb weaver, it builds and camps in a small, quick, weak web anywhere it can find a surface to sling it, preferably out of the rain, but anywhere in dry weather, like now. 

As soon as its web gets dirty, visible, and therefore useless, it moves on and builds another nearby.  The dirty webs actually steer its prey into the invisible new web.  And they can make even a pretty shrub or house look neglected in short order.

I saw this effect on one of my most beautiful properties, when a mister showed up the cobwebs that had appeared on the ground cover overnight.  Approaching the door, I saw a piece of litter, a gas receipt, crumpled and thrown on the ground cover by someone who had actually been at her door.  Unconsciously, the person saw the cobwebs and threw his trash into the ugliness of the webs, despite the beauty of the rest of the property.  A few webs are all it takes to turn on the unconscious urge to litter.

Cobwebs are all over town, particularly infesting hedges and certain shrubs that they favor, like juniper and rosemary, but also every neglected inward corner of a building, particularly under the eaves.  

I’ve been petitioning door-to-door lately, and the cobwebs around the front doors make one shudder.  Your gardener or landscape maintenance man cannot visit often enough to clean these up; it is up to residents.  

The way to actually discourage these spiders is to sweep their webs before you see them, while they are still useful to the spider.  If you only sweep the visible webs, you aren’t even bothering the spiders.    

Sweep every corner where they might build, particularly where you see a spider but no web.  When you sweep them off a building, it pays to stick around for a minute or two while they start climbing right back up where they were, and sweep them down again.  This will often make them go somewhere else.

Another way to clean up cobwebs is with a hard jet of water; this is probably more effective than a web duster in shrubs, which are invaded only in dry weather, and where it is impossible to sweep all the webs.

Plants Love Misters

Kids love misters on a hot day; you can see it in the wet heads coming out of the Growers Market.  So do you, if you think about it; in the dry heat, a fine mist makes it easier to breath.
The same goes for your plants, particularly those that are hard to grow in our very dry, hot summers, like blueberries.  A mister nearby can make a blueberry explode with growth.  Every other plant in the vicinity also breathes easier; nearly every plant loves higher humidity than we have.  On the other hand, spider mites love dryness, and a mister prevents and gets rid of the mites.  A mister also shows up cobweb spider webs, making them temporarily useless to the spider and showing them so you can clean them up when they would otherwise be nearly invisible.

A mister also cools its immediate area, outdoor air conditioning that can make your indoor cooler work better, and cool the hot west side of your house.  They take very little water, and it is not wasted by evaporation, since evaporative cooling is the point.

Truly, water used for watering and cooling is not wasted: besides watering plants, it humidifies and cools the area.  If enough people water lawns, it creates thundershowers, which we had a lot of when we nearly all watered our lawns in the 80’s.  Now that most lawns in this town are allowed to go dry every year, we have few thunderstorms, but a lot of weeds and ugly yards.  Watered, mowed, and weeded grass is the best defense most people have against weeds.

A study has shown that irrigating farms in Southern California creates summer rain in Colorado and Arizona and puts more water in the Colorado River, which is used again for irrigating farms and yards.  Every bit of so-called “wasted” evaporated water falls somewhere as rain; water cannot be wasted by watering plants.

Our city got into the “save water” eco-mindset a decade or so ago, raising rates on water use above basic household use to discourage watering plants.  People started letting lawns go dry.  Since purifying river water is mostly overhead, the city had to raise rates again to cover costs, and people used still less, starting our water department on a downward spiral of higher rates causing less use causing still higher rates. 

The last time they raised our rates, they raised the basic charge, not the per-gallon rate above such use.  If enough of us would water our lawns, they could avoid raising rates to cover the new earth-quake resistant plant that we have to build.  If we have to build a new plant, we may as well water our yards to do it, rather than just pay more per gallon.

Petition to the Grants Pass City Council and Manager

Stop profiting from hazard abatements; enforce nuisance codes.

WHEREAS a long-stated goal of the city of Grants Pass is “to be a city that looks safe and is safe;”
WHEREAS the basic function of government is to maintain order;
WHEREAS weeds and litter are disorderly and encourage disorderly criminal conduct;
WHEREAS uncontrolled weeds are an extreme and spreading fire hazard, and we have had grass and brush fires in the city;
WHEREAS enforcement of our weed and litter nuisance code would eliminate such hazard;
WHEREAS warning people to clean up small nuisances makes the city no money, as people readily comply;
WHEREAS the city charges 10% over cost for hazard abatement;
WHEREAS this profit is a disincentive to enforce nuisance codes;
WHEREAS every hazardous property that must be abated is a failure to enforce nuisance codes and keep basic order;
WHEREAS our Charter mandates enforcement of all city codes;
THEREFORE, we, the undersigned voters of Grants Pass, respectfully request that the Grants Pass City Council direct our City Manager to eliminate the 10% administrative fee for hazardous property abatement and have all public safety officers enforce weed and litter nuisance codes on sight.

This petition is available for signing and copies at the Growers Market political ghetto entrance between 10:30 AM and 1:00 PM Saturdays, and is being circulated door-to-door.  

Earwigs? No problem!

Earwigs are a creepy nuisance at times, like when they crawl out of freshly picked flowers or lettuce heads, but they are not a pest. They actually clean up fungal infections on plants.

A typical earwig.  Credit:

                   For several years in this town, I found that one could not grow a hollyhock to bloom without it becoming covered with an ugly rust by the time it bloomed.  I would cut them down when they got ugly and let them re-grow to bloom later in the summer, when the rust is not so prevalent.
          But one year, I didn’t see any rust on my hollyhocks, and so didn’t cut them down.  As they were blooming, I was lying on the lawn one day, looking up at them, and noticed that the leaves were full of tiny holes in the same pattern as the rust would make, and so was a butterfly bush.  That evening, I noticed earwigs climbing the butterfly bush as it got dark, and put two and two together; the earwigs were eating the rust before it made spores and became colorful.
          I had previously noticed that I had a great many earwigs in my gardens and thought about various strategies for getting rid of them, though I noticed no damage that I could attribute to them.  Now I realized that they were actually useful, and stopped worrying about them.
          In Landscape Management at RCC, our teacher pointed out that plant diseases like rust make typical damage patterns that differ from those caused by plant-eating pests.  After several years of observing such damage, I was able to see the difference right away between pest damage and fungal damage cleaned up by earwigs.  Since then, I have noticed earwig work on other plants with other fungi.
          Earwigs are just one of the many beneficial insects that are encouraged by leaf mulch.  Many predators of plant pests live under mulch and rocks, along with pests that they may or may not eat, like snails, slugs, grubs, and grasshoppers.

 A variety of soldier beetle common in Southern Oregon.  Their color patterns vary widely.  


Soldier beetles eat aphids in April and May and then lay their eggs in mulch-covered soil.  Their velvety black larvae crawl under the mulch for the rest of the year, eating a great many insect eggs and baby bugs.  You will rarely if ever see the larvae; they are exceedingly shy. It’s hard to even find photos of them. 

 A ground beetle typical to Southern Oregon.  Some are iridescent; some have big heads.  

Ground beetles, spiders and centipedes also hunt beneath the mulch.  Leaves aren’t the only mulch they like, but they are probably the best, apart from a tendency to be eaten up by worms, pill bugs, millipedes and earwigs.  Coarse bark mulch can keep the soil covered when the soft leaves are eaten up.  Keep your soil predators happy with good mulch, and you will have few pest problems. 
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040

Disorderly Property is Dangerous

5th Speech to Networking Toastmasters, 6/3/2013

Good morning, Toastmasters and Honored Guests:
Grants Pass’ top stated goal has long been, “to be a city that looks safe and is safe.”  What’s wrong with that goal?
I’ll tell you what’s wrong; that it’s only a goal.  That our city has been taking no real steps to attain it.
What makes a city look safe?  I submit that it is cleanliness and order: clean streets, well kept properties; no litter; no graffiti.  Order is intimidating to the disorderly and lawless, comforting to the orderly and law abiding.
Weeds, litter and filthy pavements, on the other hand, are encouraging to low life and disturbing to respectable folks.  Disorderly property is worse than bad advertising; it is downright dangerous.  That’s why we have property nuisance codes.
In 1982, James Q. Wilson wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly about the disorder that encourages crime.  He called it, “BrokenWindows.”   It has lent its name to a policing philosophy which holds that, if we take care of disorderly nuisances like broken windows, major crimes will be reduced.  “Take care of the little things,” they say, “and the big things take care of themselves.”  It has worked in New York and Cincinnati; it can work in Grants Pass.
He said that the things that aggravate us the most are not major crimes, which rarely happen to us, but constant nuisances imposed on us by thoughtless others, like barking dogs, litter and weeds—except that Wilson wrote about broken windows, panhandlers and prostitutes, being a city boy.  Nuisance codes were written to keep the peace, by having our public nags, our city police, remind us to love one another so we don’t drive each other nuts.  
Broken windows are several steps down the road to disorder.  Disorder starts with weeds gone to seed, and tree trash left rotting on pavements.  “Seedy” is a word that denotes neglect in property or dress.  Litter soon follows, as people add their ugly to ugliness.  As gangsters get comfortable, they start tagging their territories.  Kids looking for bad fun start breaking windows and entering abandoned buildings, like the Dimmick hospital. 
Disorderly vagrants throw litter around weedy places to see if it gets old, or gets picked up.  Old litter means that a place is safe to camp in; no one cares, and good people stay away.  It marks their territories. 
Ownership is control, and cleanliness also marks territory; the territory of the law abiding and orderly.  The way to take control of your city is to clean it up and keep it clean, and thereby make it look safe, so it will be safe.
Truly, it is kinder to warn one to clean up a bit of litter and a few weeds, than to wait until it ripens into a major safety hazard that is a huge, expensive hassle to clean up!  But the latter is what our city has been doing for some time, and it shows.   
After all, the city makes no money off of warning people to clean up nuisances.  But it can abate safety hazards for 10% over cost.  You see the occasional “notice of violation” sign on selected neglected properties this time of year.  
But since nuisance codes are not enforced, more safety hazards ripen than our code enforcers can harvest. 
Thus we had a forest fire, complete with water drops, right off 7th Street two years ago, that started in the weeds behind Burger King’s lot and roared up a hill into tall pines.
In 2006, short-time-City-Manager David Frasher created a Code Enforcement Office, and forbade police or firemen to enforce our codes.  He apparently read our City Charter, which mandates enforcement of all city ordinances.  It seems that he started Code Enforcement to create the appearance of enforcing city codes while making it the place where property nuisance complaints go to die. 

He soon renamed them “Community Service Officers” or CSOs.  They “serve and protect” property slobs, developers, and bankers, not neighbors.  They enforce city codes only by complaint—and then tell the slobs who complained about their property.  I’ve had a couple of neighbors in my face because of them.
It can be a dangerous job to ask a disorderly person to clean up his property or to complain to police about him.  That’s why nuisance codes must be enforced on sight, and all officers trained to spot violations and warn violators.

Right now, our police are citing people for crimes that they should be jailed for, while being forbidden to cite nuisance code violators.  Please ask the Council and Manager to eliminate the Community Service Code Enforcement Office and train all of our police to use their citation power where it will be most effective, to nag our residents and landowners to obey our nuisance codes.  Then we can really be “a city that looks safe and is safe.”

I have started a petition to do just that.  Please sign it after the meeting.
I yield the floor to the Toastmaster.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener    541-955-9040

Keeping Properties to Code: A Landscape Maintenance Guide

Landscape maintenance professionals in Grants Pass have a duty to keep our customers’ properties maintained at least to the standards of the City’s nuisance code.    It pays to learn what those minimal standards are and tell our customers what we need to do so they will be within the law and not be a nuisance to their neighbors.  Not all nuisances are written into the law, however, and we should go beyond the City’s code to help our customers love their neighbors.

For instance, code 5.12.050 Weed, Grass, Snow and Ice Removal, applies only to sidewalks and does not mention leaves or rocks, but there is no good reason to allow weeds, leaves or rocks to remain anywhere on pavements, including the street in front of one’s property.  What’s the point in making a place neat and pretty if the street in front is a mess?  The City will not clean it up for you; the most they may do is drive by with a street sweeper.

            Many people ignore the area outside their fence, or even use it as a dumping ground, right along the street.  Code 5.12.050 section 2 requires one to maintain public right of way if it abuts a public sidewalk, but many streets in our town lack sidewalks.  That is no reason to inflict weeds and other eyesores on people walking, riding or driving by.  Everyone should clean well into the street, blowing leaves, dirt and rocks onto soil in one’s yard, where they belong.  Cyclists would love a clean street edge.

            The critical code is 5.12.060, Weeds and Noxious Growth.   It forbids weeds maturing and going to seed, and says that one must cut down or destroy them.  Weed control is seed control; our code targets weeds at the point when they are about to make seed and spread. 

Cutting doesn’t kill mature weeds and does not, therefore, bring one into compliance.  The false dandelions and other windblown weeds that invade unwatered lawns pop right back up with flowers, soon followed by seeds blowing all over the neighborhood.  Puncture vine lies under mowers and its seeds ride along to the next property on their tires.  Annual grasses keep putting up shorter stalks until they seed out under the mower blades. 

Pulling is the only real control for most weed seeds, and flowering, or maturity, is the point at which most are easiest to pull, but are not yet a nuisance.  Crabgrass is an exception; it is harder to pull when flowering, and should be pulled or smothered under mulch ASAP.

Noxious Growth is the other half of this ordinance, and this gardener would define it as any vegetation that is in the way of passersby or the neighbors.  The city asks us in leaflets to trim groundcovers 6 inches back from curbs to allow street sweepers to operate; this should be done even where the City does not sweep.

Last, and the least anyone should do, is keeping litter picked up, and not leaving grass clippings on pavements or ugly organic detritus in plain sight, covered in 5.12.070 Scattering Rubbish.  It doesn’t specifically mention any of these things except trash, but it does forbid anything that “which would mar the appearance, create a stench, or detract from the cleanliness” of a property.  The point of landscape maintenance is to make properties clean and orderly, even pretty.  Don’t let anything detract from that.

Landscape Nuisances selected from the Grants Pass Municipal Code, Title 5:

5.12.050 Weed, Grass, Snow and Ice Removal.

1. No owner or person in charge of property, improved or unimproved, abutting on a public sidewalk or right of way adjacent to a public sidewalk may permit:

A. Snow to remain on the sidewalk for a period longer than the first two hours of daylight after the snow has fallen.

            B. Ice to cover or remain on the sidewalk, after the first two hours of daylight after the ice has formed. Such person shall remove ice accumulating on the sidewalk or cover the ice with sand, ashes, or other suitable material to assure safe travel. (Ord. 2901 §9, 1960)

             C. Weeds or grass from growing or remaining on the sidewalk for a period longer than two weeks or consisting of a length greater than 6 inches.

2. Property owners and persons in charge of property, improved or unimproved, abutting on right of way adjacent to a public sidewalk shall be responsible for the maintenance of said right of way, including but not limited to: keeping it free from weeds; watering and caring for any plants and trees planted herein; maintaining any ground cover placed by the City; maintaining any ground cover as required by other sections of the Municipal Code or the Grants Pass Development Code. (Ord. 5380 § 18, 2006)

5.12.060 Weeds and Noxious Growth.

No owner or person in charge of property may permit weeds or other noxious vegetation to grow upon his property. It is the duty of an owner or person in charge of property to cut down or to destroy weeds or other noxious vegetation from becoming unsightly, or from becoming a fire hazard, or from maturing or going to seed. (Ord. 2901 §10, 1960)

5.12.070 Scattering Rubbish.

No person may throw, dump, or deposit upon public or private property, and no person may keep on private property, any injurious or offensive substance or any kind of rubbish, (including but not limited to garbage, trash, waste, refuse, and junk), appliances, motor vehicles or parts thereof, building materials, machinery, or any other substance which would mar the appearance, create a stench, or detract from the cleanliness or safety of such property, or would be likely to injure any animal, vehicle, or person traveling upon any public way. (Ord. 2901 §11, 1960; Ord. 4397 §1, 1981) (Ord. 5379 § 18, 2006)

Garden Grants Pass!

Since I started gardening professionally in Grants Pass, I have wanted to garden Grants Pass, the whole city, though I know I can’t.  It’s just that it needs it so badly.  So I’m starting a club called Garden Grants Pass, to do just that.

I didn’t feel that way when I lived here for two years in the 80’s.  The town was a lot smaller and much cleaner and neater in those days.  But 30 years has doubled the population of this city and probably tripled its area, looking at all the vacant lots.   40 years of not enforcing nuisance codes regarding weeds and litter combined with 30 years of expansion has turned this city into a weedy, seedy, littered mess.

Ironically, our city code mandates that every square foot of Grants Pass be gardened.  It forbids allowing weeds to mature and go to seed.  This is gardening, which is keeping order in outdoor spaces, and invariably involves weeding at some point.  Weeding is the essence of gardening; everything else is optional.  A Zen garden has no plants at all.

Not only does our code mandate gardening, but our City Charter mandates that the City Manager enforce all city codes.  This has obviously not been done, partly because the city makes no money enforcing nuisance codes.  People readily comply when told by an officer to clean up a few weeds and a bit of litter, so no citations are issued.  They are much less likely to clean up a property so weedy and trashed that it is a safety hazard, which the city can abate for 10% over cost, plus a heavy fine.

Property nuisance codes also haven’t been enforced because developers, bankers, and speculators controlled our city until the property bubble burst.  They don’t want to have to spend what it takes to maintain their vacant properties to city standards. 

The property/housing bubble was partly fueled by that lack of enforcement, because one could hold on to a property until one gets the price one thinks it’s worth, without paying much more than property taxes.  If people had to maintain property to code, the price would have to take that maintenance into account, and they would sell for the market price to get out from under it.  Lack of enforcement has defeated the intent of the Urban Growth Boundary, which was to force infill of vacant lots inside the city before expanding the city’s limits.

Garden Grants Pass will be holding free gardening classes (see other side) to train people to garden their own yards and others.  And we will be petitioning to end the 10% admin fee on abatements and have all officers enforce nuisance codes on sight, so our entire city may be gardened as our code demands.