Earth Day

April 19, 2012

ImageAs we celebrate the 42nd Earth Day, the arrival of warm weather and the planting of summer gardens, our Guest Blogger — GPO Public Relations Specialist Emma Wojtowicz — takes a look at a few Federal publications focusing on the environment and how they play a role in our communities.

Congressional Budget Office: Potential Impacts of Climate Change in the United States

Published in May 2009, this report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) defines climate change and examines the causes and potential impact climate change has on North America. The report is brief (only 17 pages), concise and written in plain language, so you do not have to be a scientist to understand the focus of the paper. CBO effectively explains the scope of climate change and the effect is has on different parts of our environment. A few interesting takeaways:

  • Energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth’s climate system and then radiated back into space. Greenhouse gases increase the amount of energy being held, thus warming the Earth’s surface.
  • Aerosol gases from volcanic eruptions have the opposite effect – they cool the Earth.
  • Climate change causes precipitation to be unevenly distributed: regions and seasons that already have greater precipitation will tend to get more and drier regions will tend to get less.
  • Rising surface temperature of the ocean increase the strength, size and intensity of hurricanes and typhoons.
  • Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, a kind of greenhouse gas, will boost forest growth and timber production.

The Container Tree Nursery Manual, Volume Seven: Seedling Processing, Storage and Outplanting

A rite of spring and summer involves planning and preparing for outdoor landscaping and gardens, which means a trip to the nursery. Do you ever question where those trees come from? In the Container Tree Nursery Manual you will learn about the cultivation of trees from seed to what you purchase at the store. This publication is a bit dense with scientific processes and terminology, but once you get used to the tone of the book it makes for a fascinating read. Informative pictures, charts, graphs and diagrams help readers understand the content and “see” the entire life of a nursery tree from the planting, growing, storing, and shipping stages. For gardening enthusiasts, you can learn practical information that can be adapted to your own gardening endeavors. While you may not be planting trees in containers, the book emphasizes important growing techniques and considerations that you can apply to your own potted plants like the depth of the container for roots, water amount and frequency, as well as outside temperature.

Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-being through Urban Landscapes

This publication embodies the community spirit of Earth Day. Previously blogged about in August 2010, Restorative Commons is a lovely book about the importance and positive effect gardens and green landscapes have on urban communities. Urban gardening projects bring together neighbors and people of all ages giving them a common goal and a visible result to take pride in. The book explores the history of urban landscaping and ways community parks have shaped society; next it goes through various case studies of urban gardening initiatives in American cities and the impact they have on their communities; and then concludes with interviews with the people who lead the initiatives that beautify and strengthen their communities through urban gardens. Restorative Commons reflects the purpose and essence of Earth Day, which is to work with your neighbors to make a positive contribution to the community you live in and in turn an impression on greater global community.    

How do I obtain these Federal publications?

Congressional Budget Office: Potential Impacts of Climate Change in the United States

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC  20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library

The Container Tree Nursery Manual, Volume Seven: Seedling Processing, Storage and Outplanting

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at710 North Capitol Street NW,Washington,DC20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library

Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-being through Urban Landscapes

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at710 North Capitol Street NW,Washington,DC20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library

The Buzz on Native Bees

June 29, 2011

I’m second to none in my admiration for the great rhythm and blues singer Lavern Baker. Her hit records, like “Jim Dandy,” “I Cried a Tear,” and “Saved” led to her 1991 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even the greats can go astray, though. In her 1960 recording of “Bumble Bee,” she sang “You hurt me like a bee/a bumble bee, an evil bumble bee.” Wrong! Bumblebees rarely sting and, as native bees, play a little-known but vital role in pollinating  flowers and crops. In fact, growers of greenhouse tomatoes deliberately establish bumblebee colonies in their facilities for pollination purposes.

Thanks to Bee Basics: An Introduction to our Native Bees, a 2011 Library Journal notable Government document co-produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership, I now know that bumblebees and other native bees are responsible for 75 percent of the pollination of flowers and crops in the U.S. Given the many news stories in recent years regarding the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” affecting the non-native honey bee, the value of native bees described in this neat little booklet really “stung” me into a new awareness of these amazing and varied creatures. (By the way, native bees rarely sting, and many of their stings are mild.)

As I learned from Bee Basics, aside from bumblebees, most other species of native bees are solitary. They build nests in the ground, in dead trees and, in the case of a number of parasitic “cuckoo” bees, in the nests of other species. Thousands of species exist, many with very specialized tastes in pollen and nectar, those protein-laced plant products that convinced prehistoric wasps to give up their carnivorous wasp-ness in favor of a vegetarian diet.  The southern blueberry bee pollinates – wait for it – blueberry bushes, while squash bees pollinate cucurbits (pumpkins, squash, and zucchini to me). Competition from honey bees, environmental degradation, and pesticides all are hurting many of these interesting and literally life-giving insects so, to quote Arthur Miller, “attention must be paid” by all of us who benefit so mightily from them.

Bee Basics is written for the layperson, provides a huge amount of biological and ecological information in fewer than 50 pages, and is available here for you to read. You can also find it in a library.

As for Lavern Baker, I bear no hard feelings. I still love her version of “Bumble Bee!”



The Invaders are Coming – and They’re Green!

June 13, 2011

I have green aliens living in my backyard. They looked so nice when they arrived, but now…I really don’t know what to do. I blame the Government for this – specifically the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. I was a happy man until I started reading the book they’ve published – A Field Guide for the Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests – and now I’m a guilt-ridden shell.

When I started reading this book, which was named as one of Library Journal’s Notable Government Documents, I nodded knowledgeably as I looked through the beautiful color photographs of invasive trees that increasingly are infesting 13 southern states. Who wouldn’t recognize the ubiquitous Tree-of-Heaven, or ailanthus, which seems to line every roadway where I live in Northern Virginia? Then there’s the tungoil tree, whose name rang a bell because its oil is used as a wood drying and finishing agent. It’s now considered invasive and  is running wild in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

All very interesting, I thought to myself, as I started paging through the invasive shrubs section. Then it happened. “Sacred Bamboo, Nandina.” What? No! It’s in our back and  front yards! We got it from a friend, and it looks so nice! “Widely planted as an ornamental, now escaped and spreading from around old homes and recent landscape plantings.” Well, maybe there’s an answer; according to the Guide, “Sterile-seeded, reddish cultivars available.”

Shaken, I got into the invasive vines section. English ivy? Uh-oh, we have lots of that, but it was here when we moved in. Vinca (periwinkle)? Oh, great, we planted that ourselves! It was all I could do to finish going through this veritable rogue’s gallery. I may have rushed a little, lest even more aliens catch my eye – I feel bad enough as it is.

Seriously, this is an eye-opening look at how many invasive plants are running rampant though the woodlands of the South and crowding out native species. Since many of them were imported for use as ornamentals, they look great in the photographs, but they literally are a blight on the landscape when they escape into the wild. I’ve had an interest in using native plants in my yard, and this book is really motivating me to do more. Anyone living in the South should be aware of the problem, and this book is an excellent place to start. You can read it here, get a copy here or here, or find it in a library.

Saving the Forests of the South

May 26, 2011

Guest blogger Nancy Faget looks back at the people who saved the South’s forests.

I picked up Faces from the Past: Profiles of Those Who Led Restoration of the South’s Forests because I’m fromLouisiana. Anything written about the South interests me and profiles of people working in the South are always fascinating.  What first struck me about the publication were the photographs. Many of the rugged individuals profiled seemed to have a tall, lean look, as if they spent a lot of time outdoors.  What kept me reading (and giggling) were the personal stories, which were a genuine delight!

Take the story of H.G. (Mac) Meginnis (left), who was recruited by the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Station to work on the problems of soil erosion and flood control.  With the approval of the Service, for 75 cents Meginnis purchased a small abandoned chicken house and some insecticidal spray to get rid of the chicken lice. The insecticidal spray expenditure then was disallowed on his expense account on the grounds that getting rid of the lice was for the personal benefit of the employee, not for the benefit of the government!

The author, James P. Barnett, provides an “up close and personal” view of these early foresters and pioneers in the South.  He notes historical events, but the most interesting parts are the stories about some very good people. Mind you, most of them were rule breakers and independent spirits, attention-getters who knew that the work of “selling” reforestation was very important.  Consider Charles H. (Charlie) Lewis, Jr. (left) who was considered a master of public relations.  He’s remembered for being able to “recite the returns on investment in reforestation and punctuate it by throwing seedlings into the audience. He had his own version of a striptease where he would remove all items that were not made from a forest product.”

It’s not too soon to reserve a forest cabin for the fall, and I’m looking forward to waking up to the sound of wind rustling the trees.  Future visits to the forests will be more meaningful now that I know of those who preserved the place for me and my family.  You can find more information about Faces of the Past and read it here or track it down at a library.

Raising and Preserving Native Plants

April 6, 2011

It’s been a cool and rainy spring so far, but my yard is starting to green up. I planted a native beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana) last year and I’m anxious to see whether we’ll see the berries this time around. Since growing things – especially native plants – is on my mind, I naturally turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service for both inspiration and instruction.

I’m not quite ready to start my own nursery, but if I were, the Nursery Manual for Native Plants: A Guide for Tribal Nurseries would be a big help. Although this book had its origin in several meetings with tribal members to discuss their needs for native plants, facilities, and training, and it uses plants important to Native Americans as examples, anyone interested in the propagation of native species of plants can find a lot to interest them here.

Take seeds, for instance. Although there are commercial sources for some native plants, it’s obviously possible to head into the woods and gather your own – but would you know what to look for, and at what time of year? You need to know when plants flower (and for many species, that’s not so obvious) and the best timing to gather a given seed crop. Another essay in the book talks about how to get seeds to germinate. To propagate some species, you need to use scarification – disrupting an impermeable seedcoat so water and oxygen can enter dormant seeds. Some seeds need fire (there’s a section on smoking them as a technique), digestive acids in the stomachs of animals, or abrasion by blowing sand or ice. I guess I won‘t be trying this kind of thing at home, but it’s great for budding nursery growers and interesting to read about.

Because the Nursery Manual for Native Plants is filled with the wonderful common names of such species, occasionally you can find bits of “found poetry”, like this one:

Common Dioecious Plants




fourwing saltbush

joint fir




Nursery Manual for Native Plants holds great charm for feeble home gardeners like me, as well as a trove of great information for Native Americans or anyone else with a serious commitment to propagating and harvesting America’s unparalleled herbaceous and woody wealth. You can browse through it here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library.


Pruning Trees

August 6, 2010

Our summer intern guest blogger for this post is Alex Ronchetti, a rising sophomore at American University.

In high school I worked a summer job doing landscaping for houses around town.  Part of that job required me to prune trees so that they didn’t grow onto sidewalks or utility lines.  I picked up how to prune properly from watching others and by practicing, because I thought there was no instruction manual on how to do this.  Imagine my surprise when I was searching through the GPO’s Bookstore and saw a Forest Service guidebook called How to Prune Trees.

This is a short how-to manual developed by the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service, but it’s chock full of good information.  It describes the three main reasons you should be pruning; safety, health of the tree, and aesthetic value.  It then talks about the proper ways to prune trees also showing diagrams that show where to cut on the branch.  The writing is easy to understand and the diagrams certainly help show examples of what the authors are talking about.  There is also a section on proper cleaning of cutting tools and treating wounds that gave me insights that I hadn’t had before.

 A short and sweet title that provides good information on the proper care of trees, you can purchase it from the GPO here, read it online here, or find it in a library near you here.

Notable Documents: Gardens and Urban Landscapes

August 4, 2010

“Touching” is not a word usually applied to Government publications, but it’s an appropriate one for “Memoryscape,” one of the case studies in Restorative Commons: Creating the Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes. This U.S. Forest Service publication, one of Library Journal’s 2009 Notable Government Documents, is an attractively packaged and well-illustrated collection of thought pieces, case studies, and interviews focused on the idea that biophilia – the basic human need for contact with nature – can and must be fostered in urban settings. As Oliver Sacks says in his Foreword, “I would even suggest that a sort of subtype of biophilia may be hortophilia, or a special desire for gardens….In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” I know that whenever I pass an urban common garden, it always evokes positive feelings in me, even though I’m not a gardener myself. A walk or hike in a park definitely takes me out of myself and my problems, and it seems to work that way for most folks I know.

All the more pressing then, is the need to make nature and gardens available in such places as Rikers Island (a jail), Red Hook (a blighted urban neighborhood in New York City), Fresh Kills Park (a landfill), and Bosnia-Herzegovina (the site of horrific ethnic cleansing in the 1990’s).The essays and interviews in Restorative Commons describe the innovative garden/landscape projects in these places and others, along with the stories of the people who are running the programs and those benefiting from them vocationally and psychologically.

And then there’s “Memoryscape,” about the place in Westfield, Massachusetts known as “100 acres.” Brian Murphy, his brother Harold, and many of their friends used this area – an area of trees, dirt roads, and wildlife – as their “romping grounds.” Brian was killed at the World Trade Center, and Harold used his skills as a real estate developer with an interest in open space conservation to have 30 acres of this urban landscape permanently preserved. He takes his brother’s kids there to show them their dad’s “place” and, aside from a planned trail, it will stay as it is, rusted train trestle and all, so they and future generations can romp there, too. There are informal 9/11 memorials like this in the Boston and LA areas, where the planes took off, in the Greater New York area and adjoining suburbs, and in the DC area, too. (We could see the smoke from the Pentagon from our office windows that day).

 This is an inspiring and hope-filled book. You can get,view, or order your own copy here or find it in a library here.

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