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 BLOG >> August 2014

Joys of Hand Weeding: Part 3 [Farming
Posted on August 29, 2014 @ 10:19:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This is the third blog in my video blog series on the "Joys of Hand Weeding" (see Part 1 and Part 2). In this blog I want to point out a couple more joys associated with hand weeding, namely, taking breaks in nature and taking time to observe what is happening in your weedzone.

To hand weed with maximum joy you should take fairly frequent breaks to rest you hands and mind from the routine of pulling weeds. When it comes time to take a break try laying down and feeling the wind blow over your face and cool your body, feel the sun on your face and the sounds of nature twirring around you. Let your body and mind recover and the stress roll out of your body. Sometimes the most joy you will get out of your hand weeding is the pleasure you get when you take a break from it for awhile. You often don't have to go far to enjoy your break. I recline in the grass beside my grape rows and relax there. I probably don't take enough such breaks because I'm too task focused.

After you have taken a break for awhile, you might want to spend some time observing the microcosm of nature that is happening in your weedzone. In my case, I had noticed quite a few times as I was weeding that there were ladybugs in the weed vegetation I was removing. I thought it might be a good idea to lie down sideways in the field and watch a ladybug for awhile - Ladybug TV. The reason I wanted to watch the ladybug was because they are considered "beneficial insects" that are useful for reducing the number of bad insects, especially aphids. Aphids are bad news for apple trees, sucking the life out of the blossoms and the leaves. I have planted lots of apple trees, so I like having ladybugs around and would like to know what I might do to encourage them to stay. I figured observing them for awhile might yield some clues. I'm glad I decided to dedicate some time to observing a ladybug moving around in my weedzone because I came away with new questions about ladybug behavior, that led to internet searches, that led to some insight into why the ladybugs were in my weedzone and what effect they might have been exerting on my 1 year old grape vines. Before I get into this, however, you might watch my video where I make some of these points and discuss some of my ladybug observations.

I did some internet searchs on ladybugs to learn more about them. This research reinforced my belief that they are a good biocontrol for aphids. I learned that the ladybugs are probably hanging around because there are some aphids around for them to feed on. Although ladybugs do eat other things, aphids appear to be one of their primary food groups. What this could mean is that if the ladybugs weren't hanging around in the weedzone of the 1 yr old grape vines, the grape vines might not being doing nearly as well as they are - the leaves could be dying on them and stunting their growth or the grape vines could be dead if the number of aphids was too high and completely defoliated the plant. Usually I associate aphids with apple trees but they do hang around grape vines as well. Because I want Ladybugs to hang around my vines and apple trees, I ended up leaving some weed vegetation around on one side of the grape vines (the trenched side). I mowed down the weeds and grass on the other side of the cultivated grape vine rows (the slightly mounded side) to let light shine in better. As the season progresses and gets cooler I'll probably mow the other side as well (to protect from rodents over the winter), but for now I want the ladybugs to have a habitat next to my grape vines so that the 1 yr old grape vines finish out the season strong and with fewer aphids around next spring when they can also do heavy damage (e.g., they kill apple blossoms). Would be nice not to have to use sprays to control aphids.

I wish I had taken the opportunity earlier in my 5 day hand weeding project to relax and observe ladybugs. Had I done so I might have come accross the internet video below that discusses how to manage ladybugs you might purchase to biocontrol aphids in your garden. This video made me think that I should have been collecting some of the ladybugs I was observing so I could release them at my main residence which is 225 kms away. I have aphid problems there and the soap-based sprays are not that effective. The video below provides useful information about how to store your aphids until needed and how to release them so they stick around your property.

In conclusion, a couple more joys of hand weeding involve 1) taking breaks and enjoying the nature you might find yourself in, and 2) spending time in observation mode studying your weedzone up close and personal to stimulate learning and to increase your appreciation of how nature works. Don't be so task focused when you are weeding that you don't take time to relax in your surroundings and observe more closely what is going on around you.

Correction? In my video I theorized that the Ladybug was eating the Aphid eggs mostly because the Ladybug was not spending any time in apparent battle with Aphids. I though they might have time to slurp up some insect eggs on the vegatation as they were travelling about. The video above tells us that the ladybug is eating up to 50 aphids a day (how do we know this?), however, I haven't found disconfirmation of the idea that Ladybugs might be preying on Aphid eggs as well (although they would be denying themselves a future food source if they did). It does make a pretty big difference if Ladybugs do prey on the eggs in terms of how Aphid population control works. Aphid reproductive strategies are quite varied so I recommend scanning the Wikipedia page on Aphids to learn more about how these pesty little critters multiply.

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Joys of Hand Weeding: Part 2 [Farming
Posted on August 27, 2014 @ 07:46:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This is the second blog in my "Joy of Hand Weeding" series. I created a few videos while I was hand weeding my grape vines to highlight the different joys that might be experienced while hand weeding. In the first blog of this series, I discussed the joy that is associated with being out in nature and getting some green exercise. I also provide some tips on how to hand weed properly to help ensure that you get the greatest possible joy from the exercise. In this blog, I want to discuss another type of joy that comes with hand weeding, namely, getting to know some of the biodiversity around you. Part of getting to know nature involves giving a name to plants you encounter on a regular basis, knowing what to look for in order to identify a plant, and combining this intellectual knowledge with an intimate knowledge of the habits and culture of plants that you acquire as you weed them. For me there is still much to learn about some of the weeds that I'm removing from my vineyard rows. The presence or absence of weeds might be telling me something about the character of my soil, what it needs or what it has plenty off. I don't know the reproductive strategies some of them use and I don't know what would happen if I selectively removed some weeds and left others as a ground cover. Some have medicinal uses and some can be eaten. There is still much to learn but that learning often begins by giving weeds a name.

In a previous blog I discussed the idea of a Nature Smart Entrepreneur and wondered at the time what exactly a nature smart entrepreneur was smart about. If you plan to make money off your knowledge of nature then the bar for "knowing nature" has to be set higher than the bar that most people have for knowing nature, otherwise, why would they want to accept your expertise? For me, setting the bar higher means getting to know all of the biodiversity that I'm encountering as I weed my vineyard. By that I mean I should at least have a name for most of the plants I'm encountering and appreciate some of the habits and culture of these plants.

The main book I use to assist me in identifying weeds is Weeds of the Northeast (1997) by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal, and Joseph DiTomaso. It is an excellent reference for indentifying any type of grass and/or weed you might encounter in the Northestern parts of the USA and Canada.

Hand weeding can be as mindless or mindful as you want it to be but I'm advocating a certain amount of mindfulness at times to attain another type of joy from your hand weeding - an intellectual pleasure in knowing more about the specific plants you are interacting with. If you want to be a nature smart entrepreneur, then mindfulness about the names and habits of plants it is probably a requirement. So without further ado, you can watch the video below if you want to see me try to identify some of the weeds I'm encountering, and their habits, as I work through hand weeding 750 one yr old grape vines planted in the spring. I'm wearing my signature headphones so that I can listen to music as I do my hand weeding.

I'm demonstrating a bad habit in these videos of carelessly tossing weeded plants away from the area I'm cultivating. It would probably be better to be selective in what plants are tossed and what plants are kept in place to mulch the soil in the area between the vines. A young weed plant that is not putting out seeds, or which does not have roots that can easily re-establish upon contact with the soil, are good candidates for leaving around the vine as mulch that might help fertilize the soil, retain moisture, encourage worms, and protect the soil over winter.

When you hand weed you hold alot of power in your hands to control the environment of your grape vine plant. What if I didn't weed out the plantain and removed everything else? Perhaps this would be better than doing a clear cultivation all around the plants as weeds will eventually come back? Perhaps it would be better to select the winning weed myself instead of letting nature decide in a way that doesn't respect my desire that the grape vine be the preferred plant in the soil? You can't make these selective decisions if you are spraying herbicides, using a whipper snipper, or some other cultivation machinery that lacks the incredible precision of the human hand.

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Joys of Hand Weeding: Part 1 [Farming
Posted on August 25, 2014 @ 09:04:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm at the farm this week doing some work in my startup vineyard. I have 1, 2, and 3 yr old grape vines growing. My 3 yr olds should produce some juice this year so I'm hoping to make some wine from scratch with my own grape juice this fall. My current project, however, is weeding my 1 yr old grape vines. I rooted the grape vine plants in my small greenhouse at my main residence. In the spring and early summer I drove down to the farm on multiple occasions and transplanted them into strip tills that I prepared in the previous fall (plowing) and spring (rototilling). Just before planting them out, I rototill the soil one last time to delay the emergence of weeds. I spent little time weeding my 1 yr old grape vines this year - about 1 hr walking beside each of my 7 rows (about 750 plants) and removing some of the big obvious weeds that were starting to take off. This is the first time that I am doing a full hand weeding of the rows and I suspect it will be the last time this season as temperatures start to cool and hopefully slow down weed growth.

In the video below I'm demonstrating the fine art of hand weeding 1 yr old grape vines. In many vineyards there might be a machine for this but oftentimes a herbicide is used to keep the row of vines completely clear of any weed pressure. I don't run such a large operation that I can afford any mechanical weeder and I'll stay small enough for awhile (not expanding my vineyard much next year) so I can get by with hand weeding and mulching (with rotted hay). I want to keep things as organic as I can.

Generally when I'm weeding I wear hearing protectors that include a radio that I listen to while weeding. I'm listening to the radio as I'm talking and weeding in the video - you may notice me bobbing my head as I work because a good tune is playing. I'm obviously not wearing a suit and tie and that suits me just fine :-) I do wear a pair of blue jeans that has good thick material so the knees don't wear out right away. I also wear a long sleeve shirt to keep bugs from biting me and to protect me from the sun. Also, sunglasses and a golfing hat to collect sweat from my brow as I'm working and release heat. My headphones fit over a golfing hat nicely.

Hand weeding for 1.5 hrs is comparable to running 10 kms when you are not in that great a shape. You weed faster at the beginning and may forget that you are even weeding/running, but as you continue on and start to notice your muscles working more, you begin to set mini-goals to get you to the finish line. There is a mental game of weeding that you also have to master. Most people cannot master the mental game. They view the work as beneath them. I don't mind that the work is literally beneath me and that it can become so mindless that your mind wanders to ideas for blogs, ideas for short YouTube videos on grape growing, enjoying tunes, and generally losing contact with the world outside of the microcosm of nature I'm working in.

This type of work might be viewed as an example of "green exercise" (see my Nature Smart Entrepreneurs blog for further discussion) where you are out in nature and engaging in meaningful work that requires physical strength and stamina for an extended period of time. You would be hard pressed to find exercise that can work your hands and upper body in the way that hand weeding does. It can be a real drag hand weeding in hot temperatures so do it as early in the morning as you can. Hand weeding gets easier later in the summer when temperatures get cooler. If you do this work for many days for as long as you can go, you start to feel like the hulk after you finish working. Your hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders, chest and upper back are tired after a days work but as they start to recover you start to feel strong and wanting to move heavy objects. Making square bales of hay on a farm also gives you this feeling. Hopefully I will get this feeling as I accumulate hand weeding time in the vineyard.

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Term Sheet Generator [Entrepreneurship
Posted on August 21, 2014 @ 09:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is a legal advisor to technology, life sciences, and other growth enterprises worldwide. On their website, they have a term sheet generator that they describe as follows:

This tool will generate a venture financing term sheet based on your responses to an online questionnaire. It also has an informational component, with basic tutorials and annotations on financing terms. This term sheet generator is a modified version of a tool that we use internally, which comprises one part of a suite of document automation tools that we use to generate start-up and venture-financing-related documents.

Term sheets are are important document in the fund raising process so it is useful to step through their questionaire to 1) learn some of the terminology used, and 2) see what some of the main decision points are in coming up with your own term sheet.

Click here to access the WSGR Term Sheet Generator.

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Nature Smart Entrepreneurs [Entrepreneurship
Posted on August 14, 2014 @ 04:24:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Richard Louv has written a couple of popular and influential books in which he argues that we need to spend more time reconnecting with nature because of all the positive benefits it yields for kids growing up, mental health and happiness, physical health, the development of intellectual and practical intelligence, and many other reasons that are cataloged in his books. The need to reconnect is becoming more imperative as we get more caught up in our virtual worlds and always being "connected" with "friends" instead of with nature.

Enter the "Nature Smart Entrepreneur" ready to seize the opportunity to help kids and adults reconnect with nature to receive the benefits that come with it. According to Richard Louv, "there's a whole new category of green jobs coming. These careers and avocations will help children and adults become happier, healthier and smarter, by truly greening where people live, work, learn and play". The "greening" that Richard is talking about isn't just making your house or appliances more efficient, it is arguably more about creating a natural and built environment that fosters a better connection with nature. These are green jobs that involve revitalizing people by making their homes, work environments, learning areas, and play areas include more interaction with nature. Richard refers to the entrepreneurs supplying these services as "Nature Smart Entrepreneurs".

Richard has blogged about 11 areas of opportunity for Nature Smart Entrepreneurs. I encourage you to read his blog to obtain more details about the areas of opportunity that are listed briefly below:

  1. Nature-smart workplace architect or designer.
  2. Restorative employee health and productivity specialist.
  3. Nature-smart residential builder.
  4. Nature-smart yard and garden specialist.
  5. Urban wildscaper.
  6. Outside-In decorator, who will bring the outside in.
  7. New Agrarian.
  8. Health care provider who prescribes nature.
  9. Green exercise trainer.
  10. Natural teacher.
  11. Bioregional guide.

It is interesting to think about whether you would want to invest your money in any of these nature smart opportunities. These are new types of services so it is hard to gauge demand or pricing, however, their newness also means potential opportunity because the markets are new and open to a nature smart entrepreneur who might grow the market.

I'll end this blog with two questions that still puzzle me about the Nature Smart Entrepreneur concept. First, what is the Nature Smart Entrepreneur smart about? Second, how did they come to acquire their Nature Smarts? I suspect that answers to these questions are discussed in Richard Louv's latest book, The Nature Principle (2012), but I will enjoy pondering my own answers to these question on my nature walk this evening.

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Solar Apps [Future
Posted on August 6, 2014 @ 07:56:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm doing some research this morning on a local company called Appleseed Energy. They have recently announced some interesting applications of solar technology. I was aware of the company as local pioneer in solar and wind installations, but now they appear to be branching out into developing solar applications.

The photo below illustrates some of their recent solar applications.

In the foreground is the solar golf cart which is being tested at a golf course this summer (over 150 holes before requiring a recharge) and a solar shed that I don't know too much about but which also seems like a good idea.

What intrigues me about this company is the possibility that this is just the tip of the iceberg for integrating solar technology into buildings, transportation, appliances and devices of all sorts. We may now be entering into a disruptive cycle where some companies get left behind and some companies emerge because they have the dominant solar version of some machine or device. Just as we now say "there is an app for that", perhaps in 10 years it will be common to say "there is a solar app for that". I'm intrigued by the potential for making money off this "Solar Apps" trend, how these apps will enter the marketplace (golf courses and sheds are great choices), the positive environmental impact it could have, and whether some of these Solar App startups might be the next Google, Amazon, or Facebook of the energy industry. There are also lots of opportunities for smaller companies such as Appleseed Energy to make good profits selling solar app packages to local residential and business customers.

What does it take to be a Solar App designer? What kind of career path might you follow to master Solar App Design? To learn more, I watched a YouTube video of Appleseed Energy cofounder Brian Rose and his wife from 4 yrs ago when Appleseed was just starting up. In this video they discuss their off-grid living arrangement. This is the 3rd video in a 4 part video series. I chose this video simply because it is the one they refer people to from their website to let people know more about them. Appears the company is pivoting towards new opportunties based upon the experience they have gained in the last 4 years doing more traditional wind and solar installations. Living off grid might help solar designers better appreciate the opportunities for integrating solar energy technology into everyday life.

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Frustration is Good: Part 2 [Entrepreneurship
Posted on August 1, 2014 @ 09:41:00 PM by Paul Meagher

After my last blog, Frustration is Good: Part 1, I had the opportunity to discuss some of what I was learning about frustration with an entrepreneur/friend who has become fairly successful (2 million fund raise) but would not want to admit it for fear of jinxing things. He experienced over 5 years of frustration trying to get his company off the ground, came very close to company bankruptcy, but discovered an opportunity related to what he was trying to achieve, and capitalized on that opportunity which put everything back on track again. Now he is experiencing new frustrations associated with dealing with difficult people, not having enough time to enjoy the summer, and not feeling like he is working for himself. It seems life is never without its frustrations, we often just trade one set of frustrations for another. He is, however, much happier living with his current set of frustrations, than the frustrations that came when his company was teetering on the brink.

This entrepreneur was able to achieve what he achieved because he persevered through the many frustrations he encountered along the way. The frustrations he experienced along the way were also learning experiences that hardened him up, educated him about the perils of taking government money (e.g., they control spending often on their own economic development personnel), and taught him how the real game of raising private money is played. He was not a young man naive about the world when he learned these lessons. He had already had a successful career as a pharmaceutical representative when he decided he couldn't take it anymore, and started a business with a friend and partner who also left his job as a pharmaceutical representative. The world never stops frustrating you as long as you keep pushing the envelope.

It is very difficult to judge when the frustration you feel is telling you that you should give up versus try again or try a different route to your goal. It is unlikely, however, that you will achieve anything of significance without a considerable amount of frustration along the way. If you were fortunate and everything came easy, then how much would you have learned and do you think that you could repeat your success again? How satisfying do you think your success would be? Probably not as satisfying as if you achieved your goals by overcoming some frustrations along the way.

So in addition to helping us come to grips with reality, frustration is also generally a prerequisite to achieving a significant goal in life, and it can also heighten the satisfaction you feel when that goal is finally attained.

The mindful approach to frustration is to recognize that frustration is the price we pay to learn how the world works, to achieve big goals, and to feel a greater sense of satisfaction when we achieve our goals. The tricky part, however, is that frustration can also be a signal that the idea or business has no legs and perhaps we should try something else. My feeling is that the entrepreneur has a bit more persistence than most in the face of severe frustration, perhaps because the set of frustrations associated with owning and running a business are preferred over the set of frustrations associated with working for someone else.

I'll end this discussion on why frustration is good by pointing out one more reason it is good: because it is often the source of innovation and business ideas. There are some who accept the frustrations of life as givens, others who see them as unacceptable and come up with innovative solutions to avoid them. The story behind many successful products and services begins with frustration that an entrepreneur experiences when trying to do something and seeing a way to avoid or lessen the frustration.

I hope I have made a good case for viewing frustration in a more positive light. For the record, I don't think all frustration is good or positive, but for entrepreneurs in particular, I think we need to be very mindful about our frustrations, where they are coming from, whether they might be useful, whether they suggest an opportunity, what our reactions should be, and whether our present set of frustrations is better than other frustrations we might envision ourselves having if we were to do something different.

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