Connect the Dots

InconSequelMaybe you think you know all you need to know about climate change. Or, maybe you just don’t want to hear anymore about the depressing topic. If either is true, I recommend you suck it up and go to An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power anyway.

You’ll see and hear something new — and knowledge linked to action can help ease the climate change blues.

Al Gore, the ex-VP, is pretty chill throughout the film, but at one point, his constricted throat cries out:

“The next generation would be justified in looking back at us and asking, What were you thinking? Couldn’t you hear what the scientists were saying? Couldn’t you hear what Mother Nature was screaming at you?”

This summer alone, Ma Nature’s on a tear: Large wildfires in eight Western states along with Italy, Portugal, Romania, Siberia, Brazil, Turkey, and Australia. Flooding in, at least, nine states along with Canada, England, Germany, China, and India.

Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, it broke the record set in 2015, which broke the record set in 2014.

Gore urges us all to Connect the Dots. And to stop burning fossil fuels NOW.

If we think it’s inconvenient and expensive NOW to stop polluting, imagine what it will cost (in dollars, lives, livelihoods, loss of food supplies, increase in conflicts) in 20, 40, and 80 years.

You may have heard this (from me) before, but here it is again: Everyone in MD, VA, and DC can switch easily to renewable electricity. For residential renewable energy options in the Mid-Atlantic, check out WGL Energy or CleanChoice Energy. Many other states offer it, too. (Here’s a state-by-state list.)

And if you haven’t yet been able to go car-free AND you’re in the market for a new car, consider the all-electric Chevy Bolt. It’s a medium-priced car with a 240-mile range on a single charge. We use ours locally and charge it in our 110-outlet (with kilowatts from wind and solar). MD offers a tax credit as do the Feds.

And for the love of reason, stop emitting carbon dioxide every time you mow your grass. Contact Solar Mowing today for a free quote.

What were you thinking and doing, the next generation(s) will ask.

Start preparing your answer now.

Second Nature

Before The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire, and In Defense of Food, there was Second Nature, Michael Pollan’s love letters to gardening written in 1991. In it, Pollan posits something revolutionary: that gardens can be places where nature/wildness and culture/history/people have equal power. And that by gardening mindfully and following nature’s lead (such as, in the flow of water and insect control), we can make safe places for birds and pollinators, create mounds of rich new soil, and turn land into beautiful places that please the eye and the palate.

SecNatureFamiliar now, but in 1991, these were new ideas. There was nature, over there preserved in sanctuaries, and there were our separate gardens and yards. Over time, many of us have tried to merge the two worlds, bringing some wildness to our own yards. Decades after Second Nature came out, University of Delaware professor Douglas Tallamy wrote his popular Bringing Nature Home, which celebrates the benefits of gardening for wildlife. Hundreds of books and articles have followed.

Not surprisingly, Pollan doesn’t much care for American lawns. In his own yard, he ended up letting his grass go to seed. I take no offense. Huge tracts of grass are boring and wasteful. Our suburban Maryland lawns often are small circles, rectangles, or squares in landscapes that emphasize trees, shrubs, and garden beds. Maintaining these relatively small grassy areas without polluting the air and water is the least we can do.

Not only can gardeners protect and improve the environment,
they can spread genetic diversity by planting heirloom or old seed varieties.
Check out J.L. Hudson, a public access seed bank.

A section on lawn history was new to me. According to Pollan, Frederick Law Olmsted is credited with its invention. In 1868, Olmsted received a commission to design Riverside, outside Chicago. His design “stipulated that each house be set back thirty feet from the road, and it prohibited walls. … In Riverside, each owner would maintain one or two trees and a lawn that would flow seamlessly into his neighbors’, creating the impression that all lived together in a single park.”

Sounds more like a golf community to me. I prefer less grass and more trees and shrubs (and a watercourse, if possible) in my parks. 

Pollan’s writing is effortless, and Second Nature swept away the tedium I can feel toward gardening and “yard work” and replaced it with an eagerness to experiment, play, and grow, grow, grow.

Partners in Clean Air

Solar Mowing founder/owner Lyn DeWitt receives a "Valuable Partner" award from Brian O’Malley, Chair, Clean Air Partners (left), and William Ellis, Vice Chair, Clean Air Partners (right).

Solar Mowing founder/owner Lyn DeWitt receives a Most Valuable Partner award from Brian O’Malley, Clean Air Partners Chair (left), and William Ellis, Clean Air Partners Vice Chair (right).

Solar Mowing was given a Most Valuable Partner award by the organization that provides the Washington-Baltimore region with air quality forecasts and information. Clean Air Partners held the Annual Awards Celebration at the Mansion House at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

Nonprofits, businesses, and students were honored at the May 11, 2016, event for their “efforts to raise awareness in our region about air quality,” says Clean Air Partners Board Chair, Brian O’Malley.

Solar Mowing’s “commitment to reducing pollution through emission-free equipment and the use of solar and wind energy is an excellent example of how the business community can make significant efforts to reduce air pollution and the impacts on climate change,” wrote Jen Desimone, Managing Director of Clean Air Partners.

Since 2009, when the business began through this 2016 season, Solar Mowing will have prevented about 80,000 pounds of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Not bad for a wee start-up.

I’d like to dedicate this award to my dependable team of mowers and to our many customers who want healthy lawns — and air.

The 4-Step Solar Mowing Special

Crocuses are disappearing, forsythia is in full sunny bloom, and grasses are waking up. We’re preparing for the 2015 growing season by cleaning our equipment, sharpening/replacing mower blades, and by rejuvenating customers’ lawns with the Solar Mowing Special, a four-step process. Here’s how it works:

By thinning the dead material lying on top of the soil, we improve the success of new grass seeds and open up the soil enhance nutrient penetration into the soil.

By removing dead material lying on top of the soil, we improve the success of new grass seeds and enhance the soil’s ability to take in water, air, and nutrients.

  1. “Comb” the lawn with special rakes (both bamboo and metal) to thin out the thatch, or layer of dead plant material, which builds up over time and prevents water, air, and nutrients from permeating the soil.
  2. Apply grass seed mixed with an organic fertilizer. Our fertilizer contains nitrogen, potassium, and all other essential elements; more than 70 trace elements, including manganese and zinc; and beneficial microbes (critical for soil health).
  3. Topdress with a thin (eighth-inch) layer of compost.
  4. Water well; this activates the microbes and helps work the nutrients into the soil.

Afterward, it’s critical that the soil stays moist. This usually means twice daily light waterings. After the grass seeds germinate, watering can be done once daily; less often if it rains, of course.

Reseeding this time of year can reduce the spread of weeds by filling in those bare and thin spots where weeds find refuge.

Let us know if you’d like the four-step SolMow Special this spring — or in the fall.

And if you’re waiting to hear the roar and see the smoke of our engines as we begin mowing, fuggedaboutit. Our mowers purr and emit nothing. smilingsunSMALL

The Wind Down

Grass does most of its growing during the mild, wet days of spring. Then, if you’re a blade of grass, you tend to go into a summer slump in late July and August when temps rise and little rain falls. This summer, however, our lawns entered no such slump. Lower temps and moderate rainfall throughout most of late summer kept grass growing like spring.

Finally now in mid-October, grass is starting to slow down. Though not until average daily temps sink to 50 degrees or below will growth stop. And roots will continue to grow and take up nutrients until the ground freezes. (We mowed our last lawn in 2013 on November 5.)

This is the best time of year to reseed bare spots in your lawn, overseed thin patches, and apply fertilizer. An organic fertilizer applied now will feed grass roots unlike in the spring when fertilizer tends to increase topgrowth and the number of required mows.

Judy'sLeavesSolar Mowing provides these services as well as fall leaf cleanup.

Our mulching mowers will turn some of your leaves into food for your grass and soil. We use rakes and emission-free blowers to pile the rest along curbs for pickup and/or to put in your compost area. Contact us for price info and to get on the schedule.

Emission-free mowing remains our bread and butter, but largely guided by our customers, we continue to expand into other safe and effective lawn and garden care services.

ANS Meadow Update

The meadow at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy, Chase, MD, is growing up. When I wrote about it this spring, the meadow land had recently been stripped of its top weedy soil layer and several thousand plants and plugs had been installed. Solar Mowing began tending the designated grassy path through the meadow in late April.

“By far the most successful plant has been Maryland senna,” says Marney Bruce, an ANS member who volunteers on the Meadow Team. This native perennial can grow to six feet and thrives in open sunny areas, such as this meadow that abuts Jones Mill Road.


Grasses and wildflowers that have grown tall this summer will be cut back to about 12 inches in height early next spring.

The pre-existing common milkweed has also been growing strong along with sundrops early in the summer; and partridge pea, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan, blue mist flower, and asters later this summer.

Joe Pye weed and New York ironweed have been munched on by the deer, adds Bruce, who points out that the area inside the deer exclosure has fared better than the larger area beyond the exclosure.

Oh, dear.

“We’ve been spraying the meadow regularly with a natural deer repellent,” says Yoli Del Buono, Jr., leader of the Meadow Team.

Flowering native pasture thistles attract many pollinators.

Flowering native pasture thistles attract many pollinators.

Deer don’t seem to like the pasture thistles that are blooming now, which is great because these native plants are attracting goldfinches, butterflies, and a variety of insects, says Del Buono, Jr.

This fall, the Team is planning a “work day” to control non-native plants, and next spring the meadow itself will be mowed to a 12-inch height. Mowing the grasses and flowers strengthens their roots, and of course, it will be done before nesting season.

To help prevent the spread of invasive weeds, Solar Mowing will continue its job of cleaning the blades, drum, and tire treads of its mower before taking it onto this beautifully maturing natural habitat.

Come, take a look for yourself. The meadow and the entire 40-acre Sanctuary is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk.


Bethesda Green —— Almost an Institution

Bethesda Green grew from a vision by Honest Tea TeaEO (not a typo) Seth Goldman and members of the Montgomery County Council to make Bethesda a community that can sustain growth, reduce congestion, and be environmentally friendly. Its first project: to install two recycling bins in downtown Bethesda. 

Nearly six years later, the nonprofit has impacted local life in countless ways, including a GreenerLiving series to teach residents about energy efficiency and home energy audits; “On the Farm, Around the Table” events, which connected farmers and consumers; several Solar & Green Home Expos; the first green business incubator in Montgomery County; the installation of dozens of recycling bins; and a Green Gala co-hosted each fall with Bethesda Magazine.

2014BGGalaLogoThis year’s Gala will be held at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club on October 9, 6:30-9:30 p.m. The event will feature seasonal food from local sources, live entertainment, beer, wine, and a dessert reception. Plus, Gala goers will enjoy a silent auction of one-of-a-kind experiences and environmentally friendly gifts. As in past years, Green Awards will be given to businesses, organizations, communities, and individuals who are promoting sustainable living practices. For tickets and more info on this year’s Gala, click here.

(Thanks to nominations by customers and supporters, Solar Mowing received a runner-up award in a category recognizing businesses “selling an innovative green service” at the Second Green Gala in 2011.)

And thanks largely to the mentoring efforts of Bethesda Green, the “greens” are spreading. Check out the happenings at Silver Spring Green and Green Wheaton.


Cluck. Cluck. Who’s there?

You want to be a good land steward, so you’ve planted natives that attract pollinators. You’re growing veggies and herbs, organically. You’ve hired Solar Mowing, an emission-free mowing company, to care for your grass. What’s next?

RentACoop owners Diana Samata and Tyler Phillips started renting their coops in 2012.

How about fresh eggs from your own backyard chickens?

Local company RentACoop makes that next step pretty darn easy to take. Owners Tyler Phillips and Diana Samata build and rent chicken coops complete with hens, organic feed, and bedding (pine shavings). Fully vented, easy to clean, and predator proof, the coops fit in the back of most minivans, but the company also delivers.


“One of the sweetest and most docile breeds out there,” says Tyler Phillips of his Golden Comet hens.

And yes, keeping hens (but not roosters) is legal in both Montgomery County, MD, and D.C. Restrictions on where you can place a coop get tossed aside when the chickens are considered pets, and the hybrid Golden Comet used by RentACoop are super family-friendly. And hardy. Golden Comets continue to lay eggs during the freezing temps of winter.

If you decide after four weeks (the average rental time) that you want to buy the coop, hens, etc., part of your rental fee goes toward the purchase price.

This business idea was not a big stretch for Tyler, a native of Potomac, MD. He grew up working on his parents’ traveling petting zoo, so it was only natural. Just like your yard.




The Fight of our Lives

I doubt I would’ve started Solar Mowing if carbon dioxide wasn’t a major cause of climate change. The smells and noise made by lawn mowers, trimmers, and blowers might not even bother me that much.

carbon-emissions-coalCigarette smoke didn’t bother me before I understood how deadly it is to smokers — and to nonsmokers. After seeing lung cancer up close, I can barely stand the smell of a lit cigarette. It smells like disease and death. And gas-powered lawn equipment, to me, smells like a planet burning.

Climate change is the issue that will define our time and our children’s time. Which is why I want you to know about a movie premiering this Sunday, September 7 at 7 pm. Disruption, about the “science, politics, and movement around climate change,” can be seen for free at these and other venues.

1.  Butler Conference Room, American University, Wash., DC
2.  A private home in Takoma Park, MD
3.  Bar Pilar, 14th & T, NW, Wash., DC

Watch the movie trailer here.

ClimateMarchLogoTwo weeks later, you may want to attend what organizers hope will be the “largest public demonstration against climate change in history.”

The People’s Climate March will be held in New York City, September 21, 2014, starting at 11:30. 

Do I think replacing 100 or 500 gas-powered lawn mowers with clean mowers will prevent glaciers in West Antarctica from collapsing or storms worldwide from worsening? In a word, no.

But as Disruption makes clear, climate change is the fight of our lives. And like many of you, I’m a fighter.

If a Milkweed is a Bully, is it still Beneficial?

At first, I thought morning glory (Ipomoea L.) was twisting over and through the swamp rose (Rosa palustris), a Maryland native growing in my rain garden. It had those unmistakable (or in this case, mistakable) heart-shaped leaves, and morning glory has been creeping everywhere since I planted three seeds 18 years ago. In these parts, the annual morning glory is a definite perennial.

Creeping noiselessly over, under, and through a swamp rose is the poorly behaved honey vine and its dangling milky pod.

Creeping over and through a swamp rose is the beneficial bully honeyvine.

But then, I spotted milky pods — and the garden plot thickened. :)

Turns out my swamp rose is in the grip of honeyvine (Cynanchum leave), a member of the milkweed family, that not only attracts bees, birds, and butterflies, including monarchs for which it serves as host to its young, it’s drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. Oh, and people hate it.

Because it’s a bully. I’m convinced that plants are every bit as complicated as people.

An 11"-by-11" painting made with pigments from  Rosa multiflora, Mahonia bealei, Lonicera maackii and weed soot on paper from Morus alba. Acer platanus

An 11″-by-11″ painting made, in part, with multiflora rosa (Rosa multiflora), bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), and white mulberry (Morus alba).

And while we’re on the subject of invasives … we are, aren’t we? … Washington Post illustrator and volunteer land steward, Patterson Clark pulls invasives in mass quantities from public and private lands in Washington, DC. Then he does something remarkable: He processes all that noxious plant material into pigment and paper and makes art.

You can see Clark’s weed work at the Atrium Gallery in McLean, VA, from September 11-October 25.

And so I have to ask: Mr. Clark, do you walk by honeyvine or turn it into art?