Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees

For the love of trees.

This Arbor Day, or any day, plant a tree in honor of a tree you have loved or love now. If you, I, and everyone else did this, we could reforest Earth.

There are infinite reasons that people love trees. Here are a few of my own.

When I visit a park on a hot sunny day, the tree with the biggest canopy providing the most shade draws me towards it. I stand in awe when I spot a majestic hawk perched on a branch in a Monterey pine tree outside my dining room window. The memory of biting into fresh juicy peaches that I picked from the trees in our back yard when I was a kid is still fresh in my mind. Watching the birds flit from tree to tree in our yard in a dizzying pattern is always entertaining. When I look up at the giant trees in a redwood forest, I feel a sense of wonder and peace.

Redwood Trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park - August, 2013
I took this photo of the majestic redwood trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park during a trip with my family to California’s redwood coast in August 2013.

Pause here for a few minutes to envision the trees in your own life.

Before we talk more about trees, perhaps an Arbor Day history refresher would be helpful.

Arbor Day and Its Founder

This year, Arbor Day is even more fun for me because last September I visited Nebraska City, Nebraska, the home of Arbor Day, with two wonderful long-time friends. I also recently finished reading a biography written by James C. Olson about its founder J. Sterling Morton.

J. Sterling Morton

Julius Sterling Morton, called J. Sterling Morton so as not be confused with his father Julius Dewey Morton, was born on April 22, 1832, and lived to be 70. He grew up in Monroe, Michigan. At 22, he and his new wife Caroline Joy French headed to the wide-open plains of Nebraska where Morton hoped to become famous and wealthy.

During his life, Morton was a farmer, newspaper editor, political candidate, railroad lobbyist, and did a brief stint as the acting Governor for the Territory of Nebraska. He was a staunch believer that Nebraska could and should be an agricultural powerhouse. Planting both fruit and forest trees were essential to his mission.

Morton and his tree-planting advocacy led to the first Arbor Day on Wednesday, April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. Now, almost 150 years later, tree enthusiasts all over the world plant trees for Arbor Day.

J Sterling Morton Sitting in a Chair in Washington, DC - April 25, 1895

This photo shows J. Sterling Morton sitting in a chair in his office in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 1895, during his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during President Grover Cleveland’s administration.

Photo courtesy of The Morton Arboretum.

During his four years as Secretary, Morton endeavored to bring fiscal responsibility to the Department of Agriculture and he did. He was also responsible for expanding the number of jobs classified as civil service to ensure operational continuity when a new president came into office and appointed new leadership.

In 1898, Morton founded a weekly newspaper called The Conservative, which kept him active and writing until the end of his life in 1902.

My impression of J. Sterling Morton is that he was opinionated, ambitious, stubborn, loyal, and honest. He was a Democrat and a racist that dearly loved his wife and family.

Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge

Nowadays, Arbor Day Farm is a tourist attraction with orchards, outdoor trails, and year-round events. The grounds contain a greenhouse, tree shipping operation, movie theater, gift shop, and a cafe. The day we visited, it was sunny and hot. An apple cider float from the cafe tasted delicious and was delightfully cool.

Nearby, we toured Arbor Lodge where J. Sterling Morton and his wife Caroline raised four sons and farmed on 160 acres of land.

Reading the biography was interesting because it gave me a glimpse of life on the Nebraska frontier in the mid to late 19th century as seen through the eyes of Morton. It was entertaining, too, mostly because I have actually visited some of the places referred to in the book.

For instance, my friends and I stayed in Bellevue, where Morton and his wife lived for several months when they first arrived from Michigan. We also visited Omaha the site of much of the political intrigue in the book

The first house built by the Morton’s was more or less a log cabin. They serially remodeled the house into a stately mansion they called Arbor Lodge. My friends and I took a guided tour through Arbor Lodge, which is now a museum and historical state park. We walked around the study where Morton wrote his letters, speeches, and newspaper articles. Many of these provided reference material for the James C. Olson book I spotted in the tiny gift shop area and bought.

Besides spending time with my friends and meeting a bison face-to-face, the highlight of the trip for me was visiting Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge.

I hope you feel more informed about Arbor Day and its founder J. Sterling Morton. Now, let’s talk trees.

Monterey Pine Seedling Project

My Arbor Day 2019 celebration began in February when I planted twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in my yard, which is in the midst of a beautiful yet struggling Monterey pine forest. I recounted the planting experience in the post, entitled Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees. In this post, we will look at how the seedlings are doing two months later and how I dealt with unanticipated challenges that I probably should have anticipated.

I knew I would need to regularly check on the seedlings and water them during their first year or so of living in their new locations. We have no irrigation system so that means me making numerous trips around the yard carrying a 2-gallon watering can full of water.

While I was planting the seedlings, I realized that I would need some kind of a marker to put near the seedlings or I might never be able to find them again once the wild grasses grew over a foot tall. Here the grass will get to be four to six feet tall so you can probably imagine the problem of trying to spot a tiny, also green, tree seedling amidst a sea of grass.

My spouse offered to make some markers but we could not find any suitable material on hand. We purchased four-foot long slender bamboo poles at our local nursery. My spouse attached little pieces of cloth from a worn out t-shirt on the top of each pole to act like a flag.

In early March, we walked around the yard to the areas that we knew we had planted the seedlings in groups and tapped a marker into the soil beside each one. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate one of the seedlings so we were down to nineteen.

Next, it occurred to me that the seedlings might appreciate some breathing room from the competing grasses so I decided to weed a small circle around each one and then spread wood chips to help keep moisture in the soil. My spouse and I hand weeded and used the smaller of our two weed whackers to clear space around the seedlings.

One of the seedlings had an accident so now we were down to eighteen.

Fortunately, I spotted this tiny seedling volunteering to grow in our yard near some of the other seedlings we had planted so we adopted it into the fold. Now we are back to nineteen seedlings.

Whew, we could sit back and relax.

Not long after, one day as I was admiring the grasses waving in the wind, I realized that even if I could spot the flags, I would have to bushwhack my way through the grasses carrying 16 pounds of water every time I gave the tree seedlings a drink.

This time we cracked out the big electric weed whacker to clear paths through the now 4-foot tall grasses. The tree seedlings seem happy.

Okay, now we can sit back and relax until it is time to make the rounds again with the watering can.

Earth Day and Arbor Day Combined

Just yesterday, at an Earth Day event in our town I met up with Rick Hawley from Greenspace, again. He is the guy I met at the January Cambria Forest Committee meeting that led to our Monterey pine tree seedling project. At the meeting, he was displaying a rack of 98 itsy bitsy seedlings he had grown from seeds. I coveted them.

Now, I have my own rack of 98 Monterey pine seeds I just planted. I hope they will all germinate and grow into seedlings for planting in a nearby forest area that needs trees.

Rack of Monterey Pine Seeds Planted at Earth Day Event - April 21, 2019
These 98 tubes filled with soil and one Monterey pine tree seed each are now in my care until November when the other seedling growers and I will gather to plant them.

The native plants that I am growing from seeds welcomed their new friends onto the deck outside our dining room.

Of course, you can choose to celebrate Arbor Day however, you wish. I hope you will join millions of tree huggers and me who are demonstrating our love of trees and people by planting tree seeds, seedlings, and trees in our yards, parks, and forests.

Featured Image at Top: The Morton Oak, the lone survivor of what was once an oak savanna. This photo and the photos of Arbor Lodge and Arbor Day Farm are courtesy of Arbor Day Farm.

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5 Reasons to Buy Rooftop Solar Panels in 2019

Don’t wait for another year.

Have you been putting off installing rooftop solar panels on your home? If so, 2019 is a good year to take action and actually do it. Why this year? Read on.

The American media seems to take pleasure in portraying us as a bunch of money-grubbing consumers who are only out for ourselves, but I am not buying it. We do not have to listen to them.

I believe that we can use our purchasing power to benefit the greater good and ourselves.

Sometimes it might be a small purchase like buying socks at a locally owned store instead online and having them shipped to you via an airplane. Or opting to buy organic spinach grown by a local farmer instead of spinach that comes in a sealed plastic bag from somewhere out of state.

A rooftop solar system is a big purchase that meets the above criteria.

In this post, we will talk about how purchasing rooftop solar panels for your home is a long-term investment that will pay for itself and more, add renewable energy capacity to your community, and support local jobs.

March 8, 2019, marked the beginning of the seventh year that our rooftop solar system has been silently generating clean renewable energy from the sun. Our system is tied to the electric grid so we share electricity back and forth with PG&E the investor-owned utility currently providing service to our county.

Let’s deal with the financial stuff first.

Save Money on Electricity

The net cost of our 22-panel 5.34 kW rooftop solar system was $14,767 including tax credits that we will discuss later. Solar prices have been decreasing so now our system would cost less.

Purchasing rooftop solar panels requires a significant investment upfront. Beware of sticker shock that may cause you to waver and lose sight of the long-term benefits.

I propose a little exercise to help you think about a large amount of money in a different way and this one never pays for itself or provides free electricity.

Many people, perhaps including you, have a habit of buying a cafe latte, specialty juice drink, or another treat each day during the workweek.

Let’s say you do that 48 out of 52 weeks a year. To make it simple we will use $5.00 as the cost of the treat. Below is an example of how much money you will spend over a ten-year period on just that one item.

Rows of Green Dollar Signs

5 items a week x 48 weeks a year = 240
items per year x 10 years = 2,400 items x $5.00 each = $12,000.

You may think this is a silly example, but it does demonstrate how you, I, and everyone else can easily spend a large amount of money without really thinking about it.

Payback Period

Your tangible electricity savings will begin at the end of your payback period, which is however long it takes your electricity savings to equal the total net cost of your rooftop solar system.

Last May, I decided to attempt to calculate the payback period for our solar panel system.

I had the data. However, I soon discovered the complexity of the task. It would mean calculating electricity costs on an hourly basis 24/7/365 for 5 years. This was beyond the time I could allow to figuring it out.

Not willing to do nothing, I came up with a method to estimate our payback period, which turned out to be about 7 years. Even though it is likely that there are flaws in my approach, I think that I am well within the ballpark.

At this time next year, our rooftop solar system will have paid for itself and from then on electricity will be virtually free for the next two or three decades, except for PG&E fees. Solar panels decrease in efficiency over time, but after the 25-year warranty period ends, they will not suddenly stop working.

If you are interested in how I calculated our payback period, you can read about it in the post Rooftop Solar Panels are Worth It and this is Why.

Increase Your Home’s Value

In recent years, especially here in California, several things have occurred making it even more financially attractive to purchase rooftop solar panels for your home.

  1. In January 2017, the California Regional Multiple Listing Service recognized that a rooftop solar system is a positive selling point for many home buyers so they added standardized fields that enable realtors to enter energy production for their listings.
  2. The California legislature upped the ante on renewable energy in 2018 by enacting a law requiring solar panels on all new homes.
  3. I do not have a crystal ball, but I doubt you will disagree with me when I suggest that electricity prices will only continue to increase. Where I live the average price of a kWh of electricity has steadily increased by 22.4% in the past 6 years, which is substantially higher than the national inflation rate.

When you decide to sell your home, savvy prospective home buyers are likely to appreciate that they can instantly save on their electricity bills without doing a thing.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the post You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels.

Receive a Solar Investment Tax Credit

Mostly free electricity in the future and adding to your home’s value are two sound financial reasons to purchase a rooftop solar system. A compelling reason to do it in 2019 it that this is last year can receive the full 30% federal tax credit.

Solar-Electric Property
  • 30% for systems placed in service by 12/31/2019
  • 26% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2019 and before 01/01/2021
  • 22% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2020 and before 01/01/2022
  • There is no maximum credit for systems placed in service after 2008.
  • Systems must be placed in service on or after January 1, 2006, and on or before December 31, 2021.
  • The home served by the system does not have to be the taxpayer’s principal residence.
The 30% tax credit we received for our initial rooftop solar installation resulted in a refund from the federal government. This photo shows 3 of the 6 additional solar panels we bought with the money.

Visit the DSIRE website to learn more about federal tax credits and state incentive programs.

I hope you can see that owning a rooftop solar system makes financial sense. Now, let’s look at how going solar contributes to the greater good.

Build Renewable Energy Capacity in Your Community

Extracting, transporting, refining, storing, and burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) is a dirty and dangerous business that is jeopardizing the health and well-being of people everywhere, especially the people who live near fossil fuel extraction sites, rail lines, refineries, pipelines, and power plants.

Major Sources of U.S. Electricity Generation 1949-2018 Line Graph
Electricity generation from renewable energy is increasing and coal is decreasing. Unfortunately, natural gas is on the rise. Image credit – U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Each one of us can choose to help our country get off fossil fuels by taking a variety of actions from running our dishwashers after peak electricity demand time to installing solar panels on our roofs.

Using the existing real estate available on top of our homes and other buildings to generate clean renewable energy just makes sense to me. The roof is already there so why not use it. If I were an investor-owned utility executive, I would be renting every rooftop I could get my hands on and installing solar panels.

Keep Your Money in Your Community

I am a fan of locally owned businesses, including solar companies, for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, I know that my money is supporting jobs in my own community versus lining the pockets of far distant shareholders who have never heard of my town or me.

Local companies are embedded in the communities they serve providing jobs, spending money, and contributing to causes important to their employees and the community.

We selected A.M. Sun Solar for our home rooftop solar project. I think they embody what is wonderful about locally owned companies. Here are a few examples.

A.M. Sun Solar Team in 2017
This is the A.M. Sun Solar team shown outside of their office in Paso Robles, CA in 2017. Photo courtesy of A.M. Sun Solar.

The people at A.M. Sun Solar treat me like a person, not a number.

Years after our installation, Glen, Cory, and now Brian, are always willing to answer questions or provide information for a post I am writing.

The company gives back to the community by donating time and money to local organizations like Jack’s Helping Hand and the Paso Robles Children’s Museum.

Of course, just like any other company that you give your business to a locally owned company needs to provide quality products and services at a reasonable price. I chronicled this aspect of our relationship with A.M. Sun Solar in the posts Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did and Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think.

Be Part of the Solution

Okay, so now I have shown you the money and presented you with an opportunity to help build the renewable energy capacity of your community while supporting local jobs. What could be better?

If you call a local solar company tomorrow, you could have solar panels on your roof before the arrival of the hot summer weather. This time next year you could be claiming the 30% tax credit on your federal income tax return.

Better yet, you will be taking a significant step to live more lightly on Earth.

Our Rooftop Solar Environmental Benefits March 2013-March 2019
This image shows the energy production and carbon offset for our rooftop solar panel system from March 2013 to March 2019.

Featured Image at Top: 12 of the 16 solar panels that were installed on our roof during our initial installation in 2013.

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