Twig towers and wattle fences – it’s time to prepare for next spring

Pruning season is here, which means that many of us will quickly accumulate a small mountain of superfluous sticks. At my house, many pruned branches are given a second life as woven wattle fences, plant supports, and twig towers for growing vines in containers. If you’ve itched to make natural structures for your garden, pruning season is the best time to try.

Expect to be successful, because you will be practicing a building art used in tree-rich terrains around the world for more than 6,000 years. Today, exercising your creative muscles by weaving wood into fences, trellises or other plant supports will result in beautiful, functional items for your garden that are free for the making.

Hardwood trees produce stiff wood that is difficult to bend, but small, straight pieces of any wood can be used for posts…For the horizontals I used the longest sprouts saved from apple pruning.

Indeed, it has been my experience that as long as the sprouts or whips are only one year old, even maple makes a good wood for weaving when used fresh. The peas in a planter…were supported by hoops and stakes provided by a maple stump that produced a flush of sprouts every year. Rather than curse them, I put them to good use…

Willows used for basket-making (Salix purpurea and other Salix species) are quite pliable after the osiers (long, slender sticks) have been soaked in water for a few hours. I grow a few basketry willows myself, and they have proven to be very low-care plants that produce an abundance of rods and osiers for making twig towers…If you have plenty of material, willow sculpture is a possibility for ambitious weavers of wood.

One of the best things about willow is that you can harvest, sort and store the branches in a dry place, so they are ready to use in any season. A long soak in water is required to restore their pliability, but having a store of willow on hand makes it possible to craft natural garden structures in any season of the year…

But why not start small? Put a few small sticks to work as wickets to protect plants from accidental injury. Tie together pruned grape vines to make a rustic wreath. Next thing you know, you will be making one-of-a-kind natural structures for your garden that work as good as they look.

RTFA for Barbara Pleasant’s suggestions of projects within the capability of beginners. Frankly, I’m inspired. Living alongside the bosque of the Santa Fe River we have sufficient materials at hand to build a replacement for the Empire State Building — of willow twigs. 🙂

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Stephen Colbert and friends fund projects for teachers across South Carolina

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Teachers across Spartanburg County were shocked to learn their online education grants had been funded Thursday morning by a partnership including South Carolina native Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, a comedian and television personality, announced that he partnered with the nonprofit group Share Fair Nation, and Greenville-based ScanSource to fund every classroom project in the state on, a website that lets teachers crowd fund classroom projects by requesting the necessary materials from donors.

Together, the three contributions will give $800,000 to fund nearly 1,000 projects for more than 800 teachers at 375 schools across the state…

Turner Fortner, a kindergarten teacher at Oakland Elementary School, said her request asked for school supplies for the students who will be in her class next year. She was surprised her request was funded, but was especially shocked by the source of the money. “I was like, are my eyes playing tricks on me,” she said. “I’m so thankful for what he (Colbert) did for teachers across South Carolina. More than anything, I’m thankful for what he did for my students for next year.”

And that, my friends, is how the best of teachers always think. What can we do to make education better, make it work for these kids?

Hat tip to Stephen Colbert.

Howard Schultz calls for a boycott of campaign contributions

Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, has always been the kind of boss who wears his heart on his sleeve. So it came as no surprise to Starbucks employees when, on Monday, he sent out a long, passionate, companywide e-mail entitled “Leading Through Uncertain Times.”

In it, he wrote about his frustration over “the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people’s agenda” — creating an enormous crisis of confidence in the process. He said that Starbucks had a responsibility “to act in ways that can ease the collective anxiety inside and outside the company.” It needed to continue creating jobs. It had to maintain its generous package of employee benefits. And it was critical, Schultz wrote, for employees “to earn our customers’ trust by being respectful of their own life situations — whatever it may be.”

No, the surprise wasn’t the e-mail; it was what happened next. Although he has made his share of campaign contributions — “to candidates in both parties,” he told me on Friday — Schultz is hardly a political activist. Yet the response to his e-mail — not only from within the company but among a group of some 50 business leaders he shared it with — was so overwhelming that it galvanized him…

In effect, Schultz thinks the country should go on strike against its politicians. “The fundamental problem,” he said, “is that the lens through which Congress approaches issues is re-election. The lifeblood of their re-election campaigns is political contributions.” Schultz wants his countrymen — big donors and small; corporations and unions — to stop making political contributions in presidential and Congressional campaigns. Simple as that. Economists like to talk about how incentives change behavior. Schultz is proposing that Americans give Washington an incentive to begin acting responsibly on their behalf. It’s a beautiful idea…

He believes Congress needs to come back from the August recess now, instead of waiting until September. Then, he says, the president and Congress should hammer out a debt deal, which will restore confidence. And finally, and most importantly, they should start focusing “maniacally” on the nation’s most pressing concern: job creation. Once they’ve done that, the boycott would be lifted…

Is Schultz’s idea a long shot? Yes. Is it worth trying? You bet it is.

First, here’s a link [.pdf] to the original email to Starbucks employees, partners and the 50 CEOs outside the company.

Second, though I have been an activist in both the Republican and Democrat parties years ago – more so in the former than the latter – the contemptible, opportunist and egregious policies of most of our politicians was enough for me to turn my back on both their houses decades ago. I haven’t contributed a penny to either party’s electoral campaigns since the 1950’s.

What I have done and continue to do is support progressive political action within and without the Democratic Party. If I lived in one of the mythical enclaves where moderate Republicans who care about working people still live and breathe, I would do the same – as I did in the past. That’s not very likely in New Mexico.

As a cranky old geek living on my social security check supplemented by a couple of geek investments [no – I still don’t give public equities advice] I can’t afford to donate much of anything, anyway. So, I will continue to advocate for progressive politics, modern economics from Keynes to Leontiev, existential solutions to social, economic and political questions. None of which would I ever expect to find embraced by either dogpile of semi-useless politicians.

Go for it, Howard! Though buying “local” is our usual style, I’ll stop by for a coffee, this weekend, when we come to town for grocery shopping.

Giant engineering companies to build global Green projects

A green power building spree is on the way, and much of it will be brought to you by the same people who built the nuclear and coal-fired power plants that keep the lights on now.

What might strike casual observers or radical greens as odd can be explained by good business sense; with few other power plants in the works, big U.S. engineering and construction companies have heartily embraced renewable energy projects…

Moving from solar panel installations on the roofs of the eco-minded to utility-scale projects that will power the homes of thousands requires far more planning expertise and capital, which will play into the hands of the big engineers.

“If you don’t have nine figures of cash on the books, people are more scared off,” said Heiko Ihle, an analyst at Gabelli & Co. “Especially these big projects, where there’s only a handful who can do it in an efficient manner, and you don’t have to worry about them running away with your money…”

Steven Chan, chief strategy officer of Suntech Power Holding Co Ltd, said his company was working with a few as-yet undisclosed engineering contractors, and saw the big players entering the solar business as only a positive trend.

“They can bring to bear a lot of other powerful things that are within their arsenal,” Chan told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit this month, citing their employee numbers, and their purchasing power in driving down costs.

RTFA. You can skip past the sneers of editors who’ve never built anything larger than an origami birdhouse.