Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping blog

29 Mar

Terra Nova’s check list to help assess the ecological health of a site.

Ecological Landscape Management check list

An ecologically healthy landscape


Soil Health

  • How is the soil health over all?
  • Compaction?
  • Over or under watered?
  • What % of organic matter is in soil ?
  • Are leaves allowed to create natural mulch when possible?
  • What type of soil is on site?
  • Mycelium inoculation needed?
  • What is the health of the Soil Food Web ?
  • Jar soil test conducted?
  • Is there a need for a soil test?
  • Is there sufficient mulch to cover soil?

Water management

  • Irrigation controller schedule?
  • Irrigation efficiency?
  • Coverage uniform?
  • Hydrozones? Is the irrigation plant appropriate?
  • Leaks?
  • Graywater system in place?
  • Rainwater Catchment ?
  • Stormwater management?
  • Bio-swales?
  • Rain Garden?
  • Mulch in place to prevent evaporation?
  • Has the site had a water/irrigation audit performed?

Weed management

  • How is weed management working?
  • Are weeds controlled before going to seed?
  • Is sheet mulch being employed?
  • Are weeds: hoed, pulled and mulched often enough?
  • Non toxic herbicides being used? Vinegar, Burn Out (product), etc.

 Plant health

  • Are plants in the right place for sun and shade requirements?
  • Is appropriate pruning being employed?
  • Irrigation: over or under watering?
  • Nutrient deficiencies?
  • Pest problems?
  • Damaged foliage?

Is the landscape serving best needs for all users?

  • Humans? Pets? Wildlife?

How is it looking?

  • How are the aesthetics of the site. Is it consistent with the intent of the design?
  • Overall?
  • Individual elements? ie, the plants, water features and other design features, the hardscape and the mulch?
  • Is there a need for re-design?
  •  Has the site had a Sustainable Landscape Audit performed?

- Terra Nova Landscape Management Team

27 Jan

Ken’s ride to the Eco Farm Conference 2013.

A photo essay of Ken’s ride to the annual Eco Farm Conference.

Terra Nova owner Ken Foster is on the planning committee for the conference and has ridden his bike there since the year 2000.


Ken on his thirteenth ride from Santa Cruz to the Eco Farm Conference in Pacific Grove. A few sights along the way: a couple of heritage goats and swallow nests under a bridge.

Amigo Bob Cantisano, the founder of the Eco Farm Conference.

Josiah Raison Cain at a workshop that Ken moderated called Edible Architecture.  

Some of Josiah’s projects.

 A good crowd showed up for the Edible Architecture workshop.

 The winners of the annual ‘Sustie’ awards. The Emmy Awards of Sustainable Farming.

Ken proposed and moderated a workshop called, Permaculture, the Transition Initiative and the future of farming. Here’s Ken with presenter Penny Livingston at the session. Penny is the co-founder of the Regenerative Design Institute.


The sunset and moon rise over strawberry fields on the ride home from the conference.

A perfect conclusion to an amazing Eco Farm adventure.


22 Jan

Terra Nova takes leadership……………………………………………………………………. Santa Cruz County group to study leaf blower rules

Article Reprinted from the Tuesday, January 22, 2013 Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Jason HoppinSanta Cruz Sentinel Posted: 01/21/2013 03:56:59 PM
A local task force is in the early stages of studying whether to regulate leaf blowers — the always-droning, often-jarring, go-to staple of the landscape industry.

More than a dozen California cities have special rules for the backpack-sized machines, with several — Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles among them — banning gas-powered versions outright. Critics call them a noisy headache that kicks up dust and pollutes the air.

“We see fit to destroy the sound scape in vain pursuit to perfect the landscape. It’s crazy,” said Ken Foster of Terra Nova Landscaping, who stopped using gas leaf blowers years ago. “There’s a lot of other ways we can achieve beauty.”

Foster is organizing the inaugural meeting of the task force in early February. He is hoping to draw as many interested parties and as much input as possible on what can, or should, be done.

The first order of business is to articulate the problem, Foster said. After that, he wants to research what works in other communities — whether it’s restrictions, a ban or just education — before possibly taking recommendations to local governments.

The California Landscape Contractors Association opposes leaf blower bans, while acknowledging concerns about their operation. The group makes several recommendations on their use, including noting there rarely is cause to use blowers on full throttle.

But the Sacramento-based group maintains leaf blowers
are fundamental tools and time-savers that efficiently clean rock, gravel or bark-covered areas.
“Leaf blowers are essential for landscape maintenance professionals,” the group said in a statement.

Phil Roberson, owner of Aloha Landscape, said leaf blowers are a necessary evil, particularly when it comes to large commercial clients. He said he instructs employees about proper leaf blower operation, but without them “there is no business.”

“I actually can’t stand leaf blowers,” Roberson said. “It’s the most efficient way, when you’re paying employees, to clean up a job.”

There are electric leaf blowers — though Santa Monica bans even those — and while Foster said they’re preferable, they still don’t address the issue of kicking up particulate matter, which can include pesticides, fecal material or brake dust.

“It’s a little bit like organic heroin. No matter how much effort you put into being ecological, it’s still a bad idea,” Foster said.

While the primary driver of regulations is noise — the machines sound like a bumble bee with an amplifier — environmentalists also are focusing more on leaf blowers and other equipment with small combustion engines.

However, neither the city of Santa Cruz nor the county address two-stroke engines in their plans to minimize climate change.

Since they burn both oil and gas, two-stroke engines can release more emissions into the environment than passenger trucks. And studies have shown two-stroke marine engines can splutter a quarter of their fuel, unused, into the water.

The Landscape Contractors Association calls air emissions a “spurious issue,” citing tougher state emissions standards and leaf blowers’ intermittent use. It also said any regulation on those grounds should be left to state and federal authorities.

For nearly two decades, the state Air Resources Board has enacted tougher restrictions for all two-stroke engines. Some local jurisdictions have even tougher rules on them, with older marine engines banned on Lake Tahoe and some Santa Clara County reservoirs, for example.

And when personal watercraft such as Jet Skis were banned from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cited not only their erratic operation, but also reports noting two-stroke engine pollution.

Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude


Leaf blower task force

WHAT: Inaugural meeting
WHEN: 7-9 p.m. Feb. 7
WHERE: Ecology Action, 877 Cedar St., Suite 240, Santa Cruz
DETAILS: 831-359-5717 or ken@terranovalandscaping.com

Jason Hoppin (scnewsdude) on Twitter
Instantly connect to what’s most important to you. Follow your friends, experts, favorite celebrities, and breaking news.

Jason Hoppin (scnewsdude) on Twitter
Instantly connect to what’s most important to you. Follow your friends, experts, favorite celebrities, and breaking news.

18 Jan

Alternatives to the gas powered leaf blower…….. Read it and sweep.

I’m going to think out loud here which I promise won’t be anywhere near as loud as a gas leaf blower in use. I’m thinking of alternatives to that particular piece of landscape equipment we love to hate. And while this may seem like I am just blowing hot air do keep an ear out for viable alternatives to the aptly named ‘Polluting Noise Bazookas’. Maybe there is a new idea here that I should run out and file a patent for because they are so good at collecting debris. A clean hardscape seems to be an obsession of ours. So let’s take a look at some of the alternative options to gas leaf blowers.

Some of these ideas may seem old fashioned, arcane or even silly yet we need to look at all options. The hope? … of finding a better way to get the job done than this…

Exhibit number 1:  The old stand-by is the broom made with broomcom. The broom has an impressive list of benefits, it is:

  • smaller than a blower
  • light weight
  • not a target of theft as a gas leaf blower is
  • cheaper
  • fossil fuel free and runs on orange juice and toast
  • exhaust free
  • very quiet
  • possible to be made from sustainable materials

Not bad for a piece of wood and some broomcorn bristles  :)

Consider the Grandmother Proves Rake and Broom as Fast as Leaf Blowers story.


Can’t forget the rake ( number 1.5) as a partner sometimes in preparation for sweeping with a broom.


Number 2 and 3 are variations on the broom, so they have all the same benefits but can be home made and free. I’ve been known to make an impromptu broom out of a palm frond. These two examples are whisk type brooms that can be made from a variety of plant materials .




The sweeper on wheels (number 4) has some potential for quiet efficient sweeping.



Number 5 is just a piece of fabric like a common 8′ x 8′ burlap landscape tote that can be used with a whisking action to clean a sidewalk.


Number 6. Here’ s my big idea, built a better billow! we’re talking a giant light weight billow that can be used to blow leaves. Patent time?





Number 7 is my personal favorite. Owen Dell’s hilarious blower alternative,

a modified bag pipe.

For small debris just use your lungs, no patent required, number 8.


There is a variety of trucks that vacuum or sweep, (number 9 ).
Big parking lots that require sweeping can use these. It is an alternative to a leaf blower yet it has it’s own downsides. At least it’s not blowing dust around.

Hosing off the driveway is an old practice that is wasteful of water. Number 10. There are however advances in equipment like this water broom, (number 11) that uses a fraction of the water of a hose for a quick clean sweep.




The equipment manufacturer Stihl makes a Lithium Ion battery operated blower. Then if you had some solar panels you could have a solar powered blower. kind of like organic heroin maybe? There are also propane powered blowers available.

The leaf Blower Pollutuion Task Force Santa Cruz will be looking at alternatives to gas powered

leaf blowers. Some of these options might be of interest to them.

The Leaf Blower Pollution Task Force Santa Cruz Facebook page .

Learn more about the down sides of gas leaf blowers.

Which alternative is your favorite? Do tell.



28 Dec


We love the Good Times article ‘Bright Ideas for 2013 and we especially love idea number three to ‘Create Food Not Lawns’. This has been our passion here at Terra Nova going on 25 years now. We want to help. To that end: WE ARE OFFERING A FREE EDIBLE LANDSCAPE DESIGN *TO THE FIRST PERSON TO MENTION the Good Times article ‘Bright Ideas for 2013  and the third idea to ‘Create Food Not Lawns’.




cover 2garden


At Love Apple Farms, we teach folks how to grow their own food. In my gardening classes, I point out that probably the best sunlight to achieve this is smack dab in the middle of their front or back lawn. In fact, I urge them to take it out altogether. They’ll get more use out of it by installing some garden beds and growing vegetables. But people say they need the lawn for their kids or dogs to play; that the lawn is more attractive than their garden would be.

But they should read the emails I get from students who take the leap and have removed their lawns. One of my most heartfelt messages was from a student who told me how surprised she was by an unexpected perk of growing her own vegetables—the community and togetherness that it engendered. All of a sudden, the kids wanted to know what was going on out there. “Look at that pepper! How do we cook these carrots, Mom?” And, “Wouldn’t Uncle Ted love to have some cherry tomatoes?”

It didn’t stop there, either. All of her visiting guests ended up out in the garden, admiring the lettuce and helping pick fresh herbs for dinner. It didn’t take a lawn for her vegetable garden to be the natural gathering place of her home. It stunned her that what she expected to be a solo pursuit brought so many people together.

I believe we have a primal drive to grow our own food. Our very survival over the ages has hinged on whether we can coax something from the soil to sustain us. Many of us have lost the skills that our ancestors acquired to keep us nurtured. It’s no wonder that when we use our precious plots of land to feed ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, that we reconnect in primal ways to those around us. No lawn, no matter how pretty, can achieve that. | Cynthia Sandberg, Love Apple Farms


04 Dec

Two Holiday Specials to Help You Celebrate the Season!

Tranquility Garden image

(Tranquility Garden design by Terra Nova)

Holiday Garden Clean Ups

Whether you are having guests over or just want everything to look spic and span for the holidays, take advantage of Terra Nova’s Holiday Garden Clean Up service for a limited time at a discount. Clean ups include:
  • Leaf removal
  • Deadheading
  • Pruning
  • Mowing and edging
  • Anything else we can do to get your garden into shape, including decorating or adding plants for winter interest.
Call 831-425-3514 now to schedule a free estimate by December 10, 2012 and get a 10% discount. Garden Clean Ups may be scheduled through the end of December 2012.

Gift Card imageTerra Nova Gift Cards

Show your friends and loved ones how much you care this holiday season with the lasting gift of a garden or landscape services! Terra Nova is now offering gift cards in any amount to apply towards our services, including:

  • Consultation
  • Design
  • Installation
  • Clean-ups
  • Pruning
  • Maintenance
Our garden designs and installations truly are the gifts that keep on giving, as we strive to create gardens that are beautiful, easy to maintain, and bountiful in fruits and flowers for your family. Our low-maintenance, drought-tolerant designs save you time, money, and water, which is good for your pocketbook and the environment.
Gift cards apply to all Terra Nova services. Use by February 14, 2013 and recipient will also receive a 10% discount on their project or 1st maintenance visit. Includes free estimate upon receipt.

To schedule a free onsite estimate or purchase gift cards

Call 831-425-3514 

For more information about Terra Nova services, visit our website:www.terranovalandscaping.com

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Santa Cruz, California 95061

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12 Nov

Get Ready for Winter Weather and Save 5% Through November!

Protect your property and landscape before the big rains hit.

We are experts at routing rain-water away from structures to avoid mold and water damage that threaten your family’s health and home. And beyond just moving winter rains through your landscape to eliminate erosion and pooling, we build systems that are attractive and ensure plant and soil health well into the dry months.


A bio-swale like this is a functional dry creek bed where storm water can go without causing a problem.

Act now and save 5% on the design and installation of:

Bio-swales, used to gently move water away form your home while allowing soil percolation
Rain-gardens that collect water for deep penetration
French drains and, if necessary, sump pumps for rapid dispersion of water away from buildings.
In addition to the function of these important systems, we work to ensure that the methods and materials that we use blend beautifully with your landscape design.To schedule a free onsite estimate:Call 831-425-3514
(mention “5% Winter Special”)
For more information, visit our website: www.terranovalandscaping.com

Rules: 5% offer includes labor and materials on design and installation of bio-swales, rain-gardens, French drains, and sump-pumps only; project must be under contact by November 30, 2012 to apply.
Share this email:

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Copyright © 2012 Terra Nova, All rights reserved.
We send our newsletter and special offers to customers who have provided their e-mail address.
Our mailing address is:
Terra Nova
P.O. Box 677
Santa Cruz, California 95061

05 Nov

Thank you for all the work you guys did. We really love it and enjoy it every day. :)

This is an e-mail exchange I had today with a Terra Nova client with a three year old son:

Mary planted a bunch of seedlings from  an organic place in Palo Alto called common ground.  Thank you for all the work you guys did.  We really love it and enjoy it every day.   :)


Here’s the photo he sent.

Here’s my reply:

Hello Jordan,

I am glad you are enjoying it!  Gardening will be life long pleasure for your son. This is a good time to start!
Here is one of the questions I included on the midterm test I gave the students in my Permaculture class at Cabrillo College:

A key hole garden bed provides easy access with minimum path to bed ratio.

True / False

The answer of course is true.

All the best,
More about Key Hole garden beds.

08 Oct

Conserving water at home


Replacing water thirsty lawns with native grasses can help reduce dependence… ( @Shmuel Thaler ) Article reprinted from the 9/29/12 Santa Cruz Sentinel by Jason Hoppin
SANTA CRUZ — When it comes to conserving water around the home, 13-year-olds can be excellent barometers.

That is true in Sherry Bryan’s household, one of many locally who’ve managed to compress their water use to a few dozen gallons a day. Together, they stand as an example of what the future may hold for everyone around the Monterey Bay, as the region grapples with pressures on its water supply, weighing a controversial desalination plant while critics say conservation is the way to go.

Raising two 13-year-olds with her partner, Bryan has convinced them to save water, even convincing teenagers to use a shower shut-off valve when not rinsing. With a few household changes, their use is down to an average of 37 gallons a day each, roughly a third of the county average.

“It’s pretty basic,” said Bryan, a consultant and water conservation specialist. “You just have to have the consciousness about it.”

Most of the conservation changes involve low-water household technologies, such as low-flow showerheads and toilets, or more efficient dishwashers and washing machines. Together, those measures can save dozens of gallons a day.

Other changes are behavioral — from not letting sinks run unnecessarily to using a basin to wash dishes to scraping dinner plates. And some push the envelope further, using grey water to support landscaping.

There are even conservation renegades, people who flirt with crossing legal lines. Their tactics include using wastewater to recharge toilets, capturing urine to condition soil or even composting human waste with special toilets.

It is those kinds of measures that make regulators — who’ve spent a career keeping new and used water separate, enforcing the division through building codes and fines — nervous.

“I think it’s important to remember that it’s only 100 years ago that entire cities were dying because of plague and various illnesses,” said Tony Falcone, Santa Cruz County’s top building inspector. “Where we draw the line currently is at bringing reclaimed or recycled water back into the house. … (T)hat’s just not allowed.”

But Falcone acknowledges that some milder conservation measures are probably here to stay.

“This is exactly what we’ve argued against for the last 100 years, and now we’re going backward. But water’s the new oil,” Falcone said.

Numerous water conservers contacted for this story stressed that the lifestyle changes needed to achieve major water savings are pretty basic. You don’t have to give up your vegetable garden or quit showering.

One local conservation evangelist is Arlos Anderson, who has drained his water usage to 17 gallons a day.

“I’m kind of over the horizon on this,” he admits.

Anderson’s home is a virtual conservation laboratory, including household inventions with pending patents that he eventually wants to give away to the public. He overflows with ideas, including using local abandoned quarries to capture winter runoff as an alternative to desalination plants, solving a water problem at a fraction of the cost while creating a new recreational destination.

“If we waited for the government to come up with the solution, we’d be standing on the docks waiting for Columbus to leave Spain,” Anderson said.

But Anderson also raised an ongoing debate about building codes often getting in the way of conservation. As an example, he points out that reused water must often be brought up to drinking water standards, even if it’s headed for the head.

“We need to stop thinking we’re going to be drinking water out of our toilets,” Anderson said.

Despite official warnings and legal prohibitions, it is widely believed that people around the county are experimenting with extreme conservation measures anyway.

“In Santa Cruz, we’re good pirates. Much to the horror of the county — and I’m just going to make some conservative estimates — there are dozens of homemade composting toilet systems where people are composting waste in their own backyards,” Anderson said.

Landscaping changes can be a big source of water savings, and through the years the county’s developed a cottage industry installing lush but low-water gardens, supported by several native nurseries and a UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden project that has drilled generations in sustainable ecological practices.

One local specialist is Ken Foster, who started Terra Nova Landscaping 25 years ago and teaches permaculture at Cabrillo College.

“You can have a very attractive landscape without having it be high maintenance,” Foster said, who finds a local trove of customers anxious to convert water-consuming lawns into ecologically friendly landscaping.

Click this link to see time lapse of lawn removal by Terra Nova… http://crimdom.net/photos/2012/landscaping/movies/time-lapse.mov

Golden Love of Love’s Gardens installs grey water systems and said entire backyards can be watered with a 6-gallon load of laundry. Many are drawn to it because it keeps water out of overtaxed septic systems, but Love said environmental concerns are at the forefront of people’s minds.

“What a lot of it is, these are the early adapters. A lot of these people just want to do the right thing. They have solar panels on their house already, and they say, ‘What’s the next thing I do? Oh, it’s grey water? Let’s do that,’” Love said.

Anderson and Bryan may seem like conservation extremists, but they stand on a horizon toward which the rest of us are traveling. The state wants water use slashed 20 percent by 2020, and local water agencies are setting even more aggressive goals — and not just in water-strapped Santa Cruz County.

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management Agency has set a minimum figure for how much each person requires: 35 gallons, less than what Bryant’s family uses. In theory, people could be asked to use that amount during severe droughts.

“Thirty-five gallons is plenty of water for indoor needs,” said Stephanie Pintar, water demand manager for the agency.

But the county’s bang for its conservation buck could be reaching limits. Many county water users already have cut their use far back from what other most Californians use.

Partly because of the cool, foggy weather, the Central Coast uses far less water that the Central Valley, and Santa Cruzans use even less. Over the past 10 years, the state’s per capita average daily use is 133 gallons, though the number drops to 109 gallons along the Central Coast.

Over the same time, Santa Cruz Water Department customers have used just 67 gallons a day, and in 2010 it was down to 56. Soquel Creek Water District customers are also far below the statewide average, using just 66 gallons per day, according to the most recent figures.

For many who practice water conservation, the issue of a desalination plant bubbles just below the surface. Despite evidence of growing saltwater intrusion into area aquifers and even the abandonment of some wells, they see a desalination plant as unnecessary, even a sign of surrender.

“Part of it is, ‘How can we have a sustainable water system?’” Foster said. “And a desalination plant is not part of that.”

28 Sep

Blown Away

Article reprinted from Sept. 25th 2012 edition of Good Times.

Local landscaper leads anti-leaf blower task force
A brief jaunt of Googling “leaf blower” invariably finds you product promotions, bureaucratic jargon, and flaming forums where users challenge to blow “California hippies” off their property and where non-users share stories about how their grandmother almost out-raked a gas-powered leaf blower.

Locally, however, the leaf blower discussion is headed in a more environmentally minded direction. The discussion started when Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping owner Ken Foster wrote an open letter in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Feb. 12 issue, calling on landscapers to reconsider their reliance on the blower. A few weeks earlier, Foster had published a manifesto of sorts on the souring aspects of leaf blowers to his company’s blog.

In his letter, Foster challenged landscapers to dramatically reduce their use of gas-powered, two-stroke leaf blowers and instead supply their debris-clearing arsenal with rakes, brooms, and, as a last resort, electric blowers. Listing air pollution first and noise pollution third in a list of five reasons, Foster evidently drew the focus away from typical neighborhood complaints about blowers’ high-pitched whining noise and challenged landscapers to go a step further in their overseeing the health of the landscape.

Foster says that he got “a lot of response” from that letter, as several thank you cards and calls rolled in. In response, Foster mounted a call-to-task-force, inviting a dozen homeowners, professional landscapers and community activists to research and represent the woes of the device. The goal of the task force (called Leaf Blower Task Force Santa Cruz) is not to reinvent the rake, but to find dogmatic solutions to technology’s side effects.

However much his 2,768-word blog post attempts to discredit the common landscaping appliance, Foster’s sunset standpoint is more moderate. “An all-out ban is the wrong idea … we really just need to educate people,” Foster explains. “Since I’m a landscape contractor, I understand what contractors have to do to stay in business. At the same time, I just feel like we could be more careful about the community and the people we work with.”

With more than 300 cities across the nation—two dozen of them in California—which currently ban or restrict leaf blower use, Santa Cruz is not new to the issue: A proposed ban failed in the City of Santa Cruz in 1998.

Foster, who is also a permaculture instructor at Cabrillo College, wrote his own personal manifesto, titled “My escape from the land of the two-stroke backpack blowers,” in the 1990s.

“We have this attitude that we need power in the landscape,” says Foster, “and I think that a lot of people that are doing the [machine-assisted] work could easily be doing high-quality work with a little bit of training.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, American Lung Association, California Air Resources board and UC Riverside have published preliminary findings about leaf blower pollution, but further information, clearly and cleanly obtained, may help the dust settle.

The lure of irresistibly sardonic nicknames like “polluting noise bazooka,” “Lucifer’s trumpet,” and “death metal sur l’herbe,” have yet to convince Santa Cruz to abandon the device. But Leaf Blower Task Force Santa Cruz is nearing a “critical threshold,” as Foster puts it, and they hope to research, document and present their findings to the city council soon. Stay tuned. | KellyAnn Kelso

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