My opinions and insights about the products and services I've used may save you time and trouble before you make your next purchase or help you find that book, hotel or gadget that you've been hoping to find.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Great Falls Balloon Festival

Every August for the past 18 years, the twin towns of Auburn and Lewiston, Maine host the Great Falls Balloon Festival. In 2010, I attended with my wife and enjoyed not only watching the many colorful balloons rising out fo the crowd, but also the day long concerts and the festival atmosphere.

Photo copyright: Brad Sylvester

The above photo shows just one of the colorful and creative hot air balloons that was filled almost in the midst of the concert crowd. The balloons rose aloft and filled the skies, at times passing right overhead so that the crown below could see up inside the balloon as it floated past.

This is a terrific family event. One can easily spend a whole day enjoying the craft booths, the festival food, the music from the many excellent bands that performed, and of course, the balloons themselves. For those with the adventuring spirit, balloon rides can be booked that launch from the festival grounds.

Read my full review of the 18th Annual Great Falls Balloon Festival (inlcuding a video of one balloon's narrow escape with neighboring buildings and powerlines) and the bands that performed at this link and see a slideshow of the many hot air balloons that were featured here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dasani's PlantBottle technology

I had the opportunity to discuss the new PlantBottle technology with the general manager of Northeast Coca-Cola and his resident expert on recycling and the PlantBottle technology. Basically, Coca-Cola is using a moelcule derived from ethanol as 30 percent of the plastic content in the Dasani PET bottle. The ethanol is derived from Brazilian sugarcane, which is demonstrably "greener" than corn-based ethanol and has the further advantage of not displacing food crops for fuel crops, at least at present. Sugarcane production rules in Brazil support keeping the industry green and preventing it from encroaching into rain forests, the Amazon basin, or other critical wildlife habitats. Given, the nature of the bottled water industry in terms of environmental unfriendliness, however, is the PlantBottle technology just an attempt to greenwash a product with a bad reputation?
Read my complete report on the PlantBottle technology at this link.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Zoysia Grass review

You may have seen the ads in gardening magazines for the amazing Zoysia Grass. The ads claim that it is drought resistant, is thick and full, crowds out crab grass and weeds, spreads to cover a large area, can be spread even further through pulling and replanting plugs, and requires far less frequent mowing than other lawn grasses.

After wondering about this miracle grass and struggling with some areas of the yard that seem immune to grass seed, I finally bit the bullet and bought the Zoysia.

It arrives as plugs, but the plugs are not cut well so you need to separate each one manually before it can be inserted into the ground. Leaving some connection probably helps protect the roots from drying out in transit, so no big deal.

Zoysia was easy to plant with the plugging tool that came with the plugs. You need to buy a certain quantity before they throw in the tool, but you're probably going to need hundreds of plugs anyway if you have an avergae sized yard.

The directions say to plant one Zoysia plug for every square foot in a staggered grid pattern. You can figure out how many you'll need by calculating the area you need to cover. For every ten foot by ten foot area to be covered, you'll need one hundred plugs.

That's all fine, but what you want to know is how does the Zoysia live up to its promises. Here's my experience. The Zoysia is tough and hardy. It survives drought, heat, and cold New England winters with no problem. It does grow more slowly than regular grass so it needs less mowing. Two for two so far.

The Zoysia does spread to fill in between plugs, but it spreads more slowly than I anticipated. If you are starting with an area that has no grass yet, you may want to throw down some conventional seed to try to keep the weeds at bay until the Zoysia gets full enough to make a lawn.

The claim that Zysia does not live up to is that it grows so thickly that it chokes out weeds and crabgrass. That simply isn't true. Well, actually, their claim is a little more subtle. They say an established Zoysia lawn grows so thickly that the seeds of weeds and crabgrass cannot germinate. Either way, I have paintbrushes, dandelions and a few other weeds growing up through the Zoysia. Some of them are not perennials so the germination prevention claim seems pretty thin. I will grant that there are quite a bit fewer weeds in the established Zoysia than there are in other parts of my lawn where regular grass grows, but they are still there. I don't use lawn chemicals at all, so getting rids of weeds is a manual effort and a recurring battle.

What the ads don't say, is that Zoysia grass turns brown, and the part above ground effectively dies off in the winter cold. This leaves the lawn looking brown and dead in those winter months when it is cold but there is no snow. Furthermore, in my yard, all the other grass is green and thriving weeks, more than a month actually, before the new Zoysia shoots come up and begin to fill in each spring.

Overall, I like the Zoysia. This summer, I'll be digging some plugs from the area where the Zoysia grass has filled in and transplanting them to other problem areas of my yard.

Update: Zoysia is now available in seed form. Amazon sells it both with mulch and without. Although the five and ten pound bags with mulch are far cheaper per pound, most of the weight you are paying for is mulch and not grass seed. The two pound bag of 100% pure Zoysia Grass Seed is the better deal. Click the image above for more details and more independent reviews of the seed itself from Amazon users.