If you have horses, or access to horse manure, you might want to use that manure to fertilize your plants. What are the precautions you need to take? America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower, has those warnings.
Wildfires are a fact of life throughout rural and not so rural areas of many states. 1 in 6 Americans lives in an area that could face a wildfire. How can you protect your property to slow down the chance of damage from flying, burning embers? We talk with a University of California wildfire specialist on easy steps you can take to protect your home and modify your landscape to ease the wildfire threat.
We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!
Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and transcripts at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, GardenBasics.net.
Pictured: The Source for Horse Manure
Video: Wildfire Ember Storm Test on a Typical Home
“Fire in California” Resources and Information
Recommended tree list for wildfire areas in California
Wildfire Preparedness in the Home Landscape
3-Bin Composting Method
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GB 235 Horse Manure. Wildfires. TRANSCRIPT
Farmer Fred 0:00
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit SmartPots.com slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's SmartPots.com/Fred.
Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.
Farmer Fred 0:32
If you have horses, or access to horse manure, you might want to use that manure to fertilize your plants. What are the precautions you need to take before you break out the big shovel? America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower has those warnings.
Wildfires are a fact of life throughout many rural and not so rural areas of states throughout the West, Northwest, SouthWest and the South. One in 6 Americans lives in an area that could face a wildfire. How can you protect your property to slow down the chance of damage from flying, burning embers? We talk with a University of California wildfire specialist on easy steps you can take to protect your home and modify your landscape to ease the wildfire threat.
We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Potsand Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!
Horse Manure: Advice and Warnings About Using it in the Garden
Farmer Fred 1:34
We like to answer your garden questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. There's a lot of ways to get in touch with us. You can leave an audio question without making a phone call via SpeakPipe. Just go to speak pipe.com/garden basics, and use your smartphone or your computer, and we'll hear your question. That’s the miracle of the 21st century. You can use a phone and call us 916-292-8964, 916-292-8964. There's a contact box where you can leave a question at GardenBasics.net .
E-mail? Sure, send it to Fred at farmerfred.com. You can also leave a message at the Facebook site “Get Growing with Farmer Fred; or at Twitter, which is @farmerfred; or Instagram, which is Farmer Fred Hoffman. There’s a lot of ways to get questions in. Debbie Flower is here. I don't have a problem with the questions because she does all the work. Debbie Flower is America's Favorite Retired College Horticultural Professor. And we hear from Ken down in Galt, which is in southern Sacramento County. and he says, “My granddaughters have acquired two horses. I have a large garden and would love to use the manure but I don't know how to compost it. Can you give me some tips or suggest a book or a website for me about horse manure?”
And you're absolutely right. horses produce a heck of a lot of manure. I was amazed, looking at the figures about how much manure that horses can produce. And it’ll become a small mountain eventually, if you don't do something about it. So I think composting would be a good idea,
Debbie Flower 3:04
Debbie. Yeah, I read 50 pounds a day.
Farmer Fred 3:08
Debbie Flower 3:09
So that's quite a bit of manure. composting is going to involve a small tractor of some sort, a front end loader, or something like that. Because composting is a process where you're gonna pile it up outdoors, or preferably under a roof.
Farmer Fred 3:23
Can you do it in the spare bedroom in your house, so the kids don't move back in?
Debbie Flower 3:27
No. Obviously manure has fragrances that are not real desirable. To most people, you don't want the manure exposed to a lot of rain, because it's going to wash away all the good stuff, particularly the nitrogen. And it can end up then flooding places with manure water that don't want to be flooded. So you're gonna have to store that manure somewhere and pile it up and create the desirable nitrogen to carbon ratio, which tends to need a lot more carbon than nitrogen. So including the barn sweepings is a very positive thing in this compost pile, and then turning it regularly. You want the compost pile to get up to 140 degrees. You need a long shanked thermometer, they are sold in garden supply places. They come with a 24 inch or 36 inch shank, and they will have a round dial on the end. and when you plunge it in the center, it should be 140 degrees. And you leave it for a couple of days till it starts to decline in temperature. That means that the microorganisms working it have done their business. And then you turn it. You turn it so that the outside of the pile goes into the center, and the center of the pile goes to the outside. Obviously, that's a little difficult to tell, but you turn it and and then leave it. Again, check the temperature. Let it get back to 140. Leave it in a couple of days. when it starts to drop, you go through the process again and that will take potentially dangerous things out of the manure, like weed seeds.
Farmer Fred 4:59
A lot of ways you can design that compost pile, too. You mentioned the roof. If need be, you could cover it with a tarp. But as long as you turn it, it'll be okay and get oxygen through there. And you may only need to tarp it in when rain is predicted, right? So you have that advantage going for you. One of my favorites is the three bin method. We'll have instructions for that in the show notes today. University of California came up with that, and it's basically finished compost in as little as two weeks. Although Debbie likes to brag that they did it in less time than that.
Debbie Flower 5:32
We did. Because we turned it daily. It wasn't a manure pile. It was garden clippings. And it was about 10 days or a week.
Farmer Fred 5:42
So it went from looking like celery to looking like fine compost.
Debbie Flower 5:46
You could not identify plants in it. That's all you want. There was a composting experiment, in Tucson, Arizona, which is an incredibly dry place most of the year. And they tried different methods. This was for homeowners, so they were small, different containers and different inputs, you do need some moisture in the compost pile, about the consistency of a wrung out sponge. Not a lot. And it needs oxygen. And it obviously needs the nitrogen and carbon components, which you will get with the barn sweepings in the manure, but they found that the number one thing that was the limiting factor in the speed of the breakdown of the compost was oxygen. So because there's lots of microorganisms in there working their little butts off, and they need to breathe, and that's when the temperature starts to decline in that compost pile. They start to die, and they can't work anymore. First, they can't work any more, then they start to die, because they're suffocating. And so that's why you turn the pile. So the more you turn the pile, the faster you'll get compost.
Farmer Fred 6:48
What about putting a perforated pipe through the middle of the pile? Does that help?
Debbie Flower 6:53
There is a gentleman who came up with that technique. And we had one at school and I don't know.
Farmer Fred 7:01
Okay, that sounds like it needed more airflow through there.
Debbie Flower 7:03
I don't think it's gonna help a lot because the same process will occur, just in different parts of the pile, right? Can't have enough pipe in it.
Farmer Fred 7:17
What about the ingredients that go into a horse manure compost bin? Do you need other ingredients in order to make it work effectively?
Debbie Flower 7:24
I don't know the answer to that.
Farmer Fred 7:26
I don't know the answer to that either.
Debbie Flower 7:28
We know people, both of us, people who are professional gardeners who have taken horse manure from a horse that has a known diet and put it directly on their garden, fresh. We don't know how long it sat around before it was brought to their garden. But it was not put through the composting process. That is something to be very wary of. You have to know what those horses have eaten. Because if they eat a seed, it will not break down unless you put it through the composting process. And so you'll end up introducing weeds into your garden, sometimes very noxious weeds, like Nutsedge.
Farmer Fred 8:04
Debbie Flower 8:06
They are close relatives. The other thing to know is that if you've got a lot of manure, remember it’s 50 pounds a day per horse, 100 pounds a day for two horses. You're gonna have a lot of manure, and it attracts lots of things, insects in particular, and you may want to contact an insectary, and there are live organisms that you can get. They can mail them to you and you can put them in your pile that will naturally kill those insects. It can kill flies in particular, which is what I'm thinking of.
Farmer Fred 8:35
And one of those critters you can get is soldier fly larva, they really do a great job in manure reduction. And that can really help you out in your battle to to control the pest flies that may be around.
Debbie Flower 8:49
The thing I'm thinking of is a micro organism of bacteria or fungus of some sort. It's been many years since I've recommended that to someone, and they did it and it worked great. And I sent them to the insectary called Rincon Vetova. They have a wonderful website (RinconVitova.com) , and very knowledgeable people. And they put this friend on a regular mailing based on the number of animals she had, sending her these live organisms and she said it worked like a charm. When you use horse manure in the garden, know what those horses have eaten. Know if they've been in a field that has weeds. If the weeds are in the seed stage of life, if they consume seeds, they're more very likely to come through them in the manure completely alive and in a nice little packet of moisture and nitrogen. And unless they are composted, those seeds will not break down. Composting at 140 degrees, hot composting we call it , will kill many seeds of weeds, at least most of them, and it will leave you with a much more desirable final product for your garden.
Farmer Fred 10:05
Horse manure can be used successfully in the garden to help out your plants, but it's gonna take a little bit of work. Go for it Ken. Debbie Flower, thanks for your help on this.
Debbie Flower 10:14
You're always welcome Fred
Farmer Fred 10:19
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Farmer Fred 12:09
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Landscaping Tips to Slow a Wildfire on Your Property
Farmer Fred 13:17
It used to be, here in California, we had a fire season. Well, not anymore. It seems like every month of the year, there's a major wildfire, somewhere in the state. But I was surprised to learn that it isn't just California. What with climate change and drought and other factors, something like one in six Americans live in areas with significant wildfire risk. Something like 16% of the country's population today lives in hazardous areas. And that share will increase as people move further and further out from cities. It could be up to 21% over the next 30 years. Of course if you live in the foothills, if you live in a wildland area, if you live anywhere near flammable material… you've probably already started taking precautions. but any gardener, anywhere, even if you live in a suburb in the middle of a city, you could be exposed to a wildfire. Just talk to the residents of Coffee Park, a suburb of Santa Rosa, California. In fact, it's right within the city limits of Santa Rosa. Back in October 2017, it was the Tubbs fire that started 17 miles away, up in Calistoga on a Sunday night. The fire swept from Calistoga to the southwest at a pace of about three miles an hour, burning up about an acre a minute, while spewing burning embers a half mile or more ahead. And by the middle of the night, the fire was forcing entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa to flee. Wind speeds were tracked at somewhere above 60 miles an hour. Embers were flying across highway 101, a major four lanefreeway, north of San Francisco, in Santa Rosa. So flying embers is a big thing to consider. And then you got to consider your house, and the dead plant material that may be around it. It's not just the flames coming up to your house. It's burning embers, flying a half mile or a mile , because storms these days, these fire storms, are developing their own wind patterns. And it's not unusual to have gale force winds involved in wildfire. So wherever you may live, if you can see mountains around you, if you're close to prairie land, if you're close to anything that can burn, you got to consider the thought of, how safe is my yard? What do I need to do to my yard? How can you protect your home from wildfire?
We bring in an expert. We are talking with Luca Carmignani. He's an assistant fire advisor of the Wildland-Urban interface of the University of California’s Ag and Natural Resources. And that title, fire advisor, is a fairly new one for Cooperative Extension Farm advisors here in California. Unfortunately, they are needed now to aid landowners and homeowners, to assist them in making their home more fire resistant. So let's bring in Luca Carmignani right now and talk to him about how to protect your home from wildfire. And in Southern California, where you're based, Luca, the fire season now is no longer just the summer into the fall. it's year round. I think there's been a fire down in Southern California, every month for the last year.
Luca Carmignani 16:51
Yeah. And hi, Fred. And thanks for having me. And you got a great point. Actually, you got two great points. The first one is you mentioned embers. We need to think about embers, and how houses can burn. And the second one, the fire season, we were used to having fire seasons from summer to late fall. And now it is not really a matter of the month. Here in Orange County, we had a big fire in May that destroyed more than 20 homes in Laguna Niguel. And that was the middle of May, with a relatively high level of humidity. So that tells us that we need to think about fire all year round. And not just for a few months a year.
Farmer Fred 17:40
And there have been fires in California in the dead of winter, in December in January as well. If you don't have the rain, if you don't have the moisture, it can burn.
Luca Carmignani 17:50
Yep. And we've even seen fires in Colorado last winter. That definitely was very unusual.
Farmer Fred 17:58
You look at a map of where wildfire areas are across the United States and it is basically every state in the western United States. It goes into the southwest, it goes into the south. All of those areas are wildfire prone. So all these tips that we're going to be talking about today apply to anyone who's near a wildfire area across the United States. I think the only people who might be exempt are listeners in the upper Midwest and maybe the New England states. But other than that, wildfires are very widespread.
Now you mentioned a very interesting thing about homes that have been burned by flying embers. And it was a few years ago, back in 2011, that the IBHS which is a research group, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. They burned a house deliberately, they built a house inside this huge warehouse, they put up these huge fans, and then they blew flaming embers through the fans and aimed it at the house. And they had built this house specifically to show the weak points and the strong points, as well as the difference in the fire resistance of building materials. I will have a link to that video where you can see how quickly a home can explode into flames after getting hit by flying embers
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvbNOPSYyss) . And I noticed in that video, the first thing they did to make it look like a typical suburban home is they put in plants and mulch right next to the house. And if there's one thing that we would like to stress, I think in this little chat of ours is the fact that you need to take out all vegetation, either alive or dead, within five feet of your home.
Luca Carmignani 19:50
Yep, that's correct. And because unfortunately, embers can attack a home in many different ways. They can dive fast and come into the home through, for example, a vent, or a broken or open window. Or they can ignite all the materials around the house. And if you have plants right next to the side of the house that are burning, then you expose the eaves and the entire roof to the fire. So definitely there can be a lot of escalating effects. And it's important to understand that you don't want to have flammable materials close to your house. And unfortunately, plants can burn, even so-called fire resistant plants. In situations of typical fires scenarios, they can burn. And they can generate even more embers. They could penetrate the house or penetrate a low crevice of your deck and then ignite it. So yes, you're right, it's very important to clean the first zone within five feet from your house. That's very important.
Farmer Fred 20:59
Explain the dangers of a fire ladder. People who live in the woods or live in the foothills are aware of low growing shrubs beneath taller trees. And those shrubs can act as ladders, sending fire to the upper canopy of the trees. But even next to your house, you could have fire ladders.
Luca Carmignani 21:20
Yes, that's correct. For example, if you have a little bush that is not very tall, but let's say has a lot of dead branches that could burn in case of a fire. If that bush was directly exposed under eaves of the house or a window it could be close to a vent. So in those situations, that little bush, even if it's like relatively small, it can threaten the house itself. And it could act as ladder fuel, basically.
Farmer Fred 21:53
And don't forget all the dead material that could burn that's inside your roof gutters.
Luca Carmignani 22:00
Correct. Because it's very important to understand that the roof tends to burn close to the edges. So what do you have on the edges on the roof? You have gutters that might contain debris or leaves. They catch all of it, and if you don't clean it, then this debris can catch on fire. And once you have the fire along the gutter, that's perfect to ignite the entire roof. And that's very destructive, unfortunately. So it's very important to keep gutters clean and maintain the roof. Keep it free of leaves, especially if you have trees that are close to your roof. It's very important to keep it clean.
Farmer Fred 22:44
And probably to trim back those trees away from the roof, too.
Luca Carmignani 22:48
Yes. There are some studies that show how trees can actually catch the embers. And they don't necessarily cause a fire for the house. But it's also important to understand that if you have a big tree close to your house, one of the branches may break in the wind and then the branch could fall on the roof or break a window, or something like that. And that will open a direct path for the fire or embers to get in. So it's very important to trim your vegetation. And nobody is asking you to cut down your trees. But it's good to keep a safe space between the vegetation and the house.
Farmer Fred 23:30
I think for landscaping purposes, if you're going to be planting trees around your house, to preserve the integrity of the foundation of the house from tree roots, you want to plant that tree probably 15 to 20 feet away from the house. Now it depends on what type of tree it is and how big that canopy is going to spread. If it is a widespread canopy, you ought to plant it a little further away than that. Another thing that was interesting in that video of the burning house presented by the Insurance Institute for business and home safety, was how quickly the gutters ignited. Now yes, the gutters were filled with debris that caught fire, but the gutter themselves caught fire because they were made of vinyl. And they had two kinds of gutters on this test house . A vinyl gutter on one side and then an aluminum gutter along the other side. And the aluminum gutter was fine. The vinyl gutter went up immediately in flames. Now even though a vinyl gutter could save you hundreds of dollars whe it comes to gutter installation. I think you ought to spend the money on aluminum gutters.
Luca Carmignani 24:37
Yeah, that is true. But also with aluminum, you're not going to be saved if you have a lot of leaves in it because the vinyl gutter will catch on fire and will fall on the ground, then ignite other parts of the house. But if you have an aluminum gutter, it will keep burning if you have leaves inside of it, and so you will directly expose the the edge of the roof to a fire. So that's very dangerous. So you're not safe if you have a metal gutter, if it's not clean. So it's extremely important to clean the gutters regularly.
Farmer Fred 25:13
I was amazed to learn how easily a wildfire couldn't penetrate through a window, especially a single pane window, which is why double pane windows make a heck of a lot more sense.
Luca Carmignani 25:25
Yes, and because unfortunately, single pane windows are not very resistant to the heat that is coming from the fire. So for example, if you have something burning relatively close to the house, the radiant heat is so cold, the one that like reaches you far away from the fire, it can still be hot enough to break the single pane window. And if one of the windows break, you could give the fire a big opening, and burn the house from the inside out. So it's very important to have double pane windows. And it's recommended to have the outside pane to be tempered glass. It is at least four times more resistant than regular glass. Very important to consider that if you have to replace windows.
Farmer Fred 26:21
Yeah. And speaking of costs, even though vinyl siding might be cheaper, you may want to go to something a little bit more fire resistant.
Luca Carmignani 26:30
Yeah, yeah. Especially if your house is like close to your neighbor's house, or to a shed. You know, if you have like another structure that is relatively close, let's say in within 30 feet, it's probably better if you have a fire resistant siding, because that will burn if it's vinyl siding,
Farmer Fred 26:53
Fire resistant siding, I guess, would have a component of cement in it.
Luca Carmignani 26:58
Yeah, there are a lot of different versions, usually stucco or other fire resistant materials can be used. But it comes down to the fact that not to have any crevises. Because if you have like a little crevice or a gap, or a part that is like broken in the siding, it doesn't matter if it's fire resistant material. The fire will find a way to burn it. So if when you think about the siding and the house itself, you need to consider it in a holistic way, and find the weakest point that the fire might burn.
Farmer Fred 27:36
What are some of the more common mistakes that you see on family homes in this regard?
Luca Carmignani 27:41
Unfortunately, I see a lot of issues that could be relatively easily prevented. Most people think that like the roof is the most important aspect of the house. And rightly so, because it's very exposed to embers and it has a large surface. But if you have like old vents that have like a mesh screen, that very large embers could totally penetrate through it and basically ignite the attic, or the garage. Or, as I mentioned before, the gutters are very important too. So these are two things that can be easily addressed by a homeowner, insurance for the gutters. As we said before, you just need to regularly clean them. And for the vents, you can try to retrofit them. At hardware stores, there are metal covers that you can put on top of your vents to make them fire resistant. Or the simplest thing that you can do is to prepare covers made of plywood or meta,l for example, that you can put on the vent before you have to leave your house. Of course, only it's safe to do so. But definitely closing those gaps is extremely important to prevent the house from burning down.
Farmer Fred 29:02
Yeah, you'd almost need to install shutters around your vents in order to be able to close them quickly while you're evacuating.
Luca Carmignani 29:10
Yep, yep, and or prepare metal covers or something that you can just use to block the flow through the vents physically.
Farmer Fred 29:18
Yeah, that video we’re talking about demonstrated what a blowing embers can do. They showed what happens when embers blow through the typical gable that has 1/8 inch screen mesh, protecting it basically to keep the bugs out. Sparks came right in. They were suggesting you want to use a 1/16 inch mesh, but that may require more maintenance.
Luca Carmignani 29:42
Yeah, correct because that could get clogged with paint for example, or with some other material. You know if you have like a very small mesh, like 1/16 of an inch, you need to be careful and keep an eye on on it. And yeah, if you have like larger mesh, for example, a quarter of an inch, then the embers can easily go through and ignite, whatever is on the other side. And that's also important. For example, if you have a garage where you usually store all of the flammable material like paint, we have all sorts of things. So if embers get the garage, then it's a big issue.
Farmer Fred 30:27
Yeah. Speaking of flammable materials on property, I'm thinking of when I lived in the country, all the people with propane tanks, even though they were the required distance from the house, they were usually under trees, or in some sort of flammable area. And if those tanks exploded, it doesn't matter that it's 30 feet away.
Luca Carmignani 30:49
Yes, that's, that's correct.
Farmer Fred 30:52
Another thing that people don't realize, too, when they're building their dream home in the hills is if they're on the top of the hill, they think they're safe from fire, because all the vegetation is below them. I don't think they realize that fire and wind moves uphill.
Luca Carmignani 31:06
If your house is on top of the hill, you're pretty lucky because you probably have a great view. But that's very dangerous in terms of embers. And if you have a fire, let's say on the on the bottom of the hill, the fire moves along the vertical slope. That's a very dangerous scenario, because the fire can move readily, and generate a lot of embers. And the embers are accelerated by the topography basically, by the landscape. And they can really get visibly shot higher up in the in the air and reach even farther away. And that's exactly the case of the fire year that we had in Orange County, the coastal fire, where basically the houses were on top of a hill, and the fire spread through a canyon. And within an hour, less than two hours old, the houses were already on fire. So there were no flame contacts. It was like a pure ember issue. And those embers came from the bottom of the hill, not from the top. So yes, unfortunately, top of the hill doesn't mean your safe. Actually, you might even be in more trouble.
Farmer Fred 32:30
But let's talk about narrow roadways, too. I'm always amazed , in fire prone hillsides in the foothills and deeper into the mountains, how narrow the roads get. How narrow the driveways are, how the heck is a fireman supposed to save your house if he can't get to it?
Luca Carmignani 32:47
Yeah, that's a very good point. And that's also why it's important to leave room within five feet from your house. So if emergency responders have to protect your property, they need to have room to act, and again, like the roads, and the situation of access to your property, it is very important. But it's also crucial to understand that in a situation where there's a lot of houses burning, the emergency responders might need to prioritize their effort for evacuating people or helping people in need, and then might not have the resources to extinguish the fire.
That's why it's so important to have a fire extinguisher in the house in case the firefighters or other emergency responders cannot act to protect it. And in that way, you can only count on passive strategies.
Farmer Fred 33:46
Of the fire professionals I've talked to, they are most reluctant in a situation where they can pick and choose the house they can save, they're very reluctant to go down a driveway that is lined with trees on either side. And they're really leery of those narrow side yards you talked about. Especially if there's a wooden fence dividing the two adjacent properties because those narrow side yards which sometimes are only 4 or 6 or 8 feet wide. If that fence is on fire, no fireman is going to walk in that area.
Luca Carmignani 34:24
That's very correct. And that's why, when we talk about being fire resilient, we think more about a community effort and not just as a single property owner effort, because he has to account in all these scenarios where for example, the firefighters need to go through the yard or pass fences and so on. Very important. talk to your neighbors. And think in advance about what could happen in the case of a fire.
Farmer Fred 34:59
When we had the acreage, the one of the first things I did was to install an alternate driveway, not the main driveway, but an alternate driveway that was a width that was wide enough to hold basically two fire engines and have it go to a gate on the main street. And that gate was a chain link fence because chain link isn't gonna burn.
Luca Carmignani 35:22
Yep. And that's why I mean the fence material is very important, because in a lot of cases, people underestimate the importance of fences. But besides being an obstacle for emergency responders, they can't really determine the survival rate of a house. For example, if you're at a fence that is made of wood and is attached to the house walls, the fire could spread through the fence and reach the house. So that would actually make it worse. And not only for access, but also for the fire resistance itself.
Farmer Fred 36:03
Yeah, that would make sense for any gate to be made out of non-flammable material.
Luca Carmignani 36:09
Yep, yeah, like metal gate, I understand that there's like aesthetic issues. But I feel that there's plenty of alternatives. find an option for a gate or a separation between the fence and the house wall that you can use, like, make it look nice. And at the same time, fire resistant.
Farmer Fred 36:31
One thing I see in a lot of these fire demonstration videos that I'm sure people don't think about is the amount of debris that might be under a deck leading to a door, or the amount of debris just around the house that should be cleaned up.
Luca Carmignani 36:47
Yes. unfortunately, it depends on the deck, it can be really hard at times to clean underneath it or in between the boards. But it's extremely important to do it. Because areas where you have some air flow, embers could jump in. those are perfect for igniting the material. Because the fire love situations like that where you can sneak in and basically ignite a little debris or leaves, or organic material, and then ignite the bigger components, for example, the boards of the deck and then from the deck, you get the house. So yes, cleaning up the the areas underneath the deck, and for example, between the deck boards is very, very important.
Farmer Fred 37:41
We talked about taking out the vegetation that's within five feet of your home. Also most people don't realize that most organic mulches like bark, can burn or at least smolder. And then they're not going to stop a fire. What are the alternatives? Does it have to be a rock mulch?
Luca Carmignani 38:02
Well, mulch is a is a big issue because it was promoted a lot in terms of Water Conservancy, because it's very good to retain moisture from the soil. And so you can see in a lot of houses, mulch goes right along the border, the outline of the house. And that's very, very dangerous, because as you mentioned, it can catch on fire. It might smolder at the beginning. But when the smoldering is strong enough, then it can transition to flaming and ignite other components. So there are some alternatives. According to one re ent study, actually, there's a lot of problems related to mulching, but there are some alternatives that you can use. Having my bigger pieces for the mulch instead of having the finer material. That could help preventing ignition, but overall, it's great to keep it away from the house.
Farmer Fred 39:03
So if I'm thinking of making my home more fire safe from burning embers, so if I've cleared out the first five feet, what is the depth of the next zone, I guess that's where I should build my circular driveway.
Luca Carmignani 39:20
The official zones right now are only two zones. The first one is from zero to 30 feet and then you have 30 to 100 feet from your house. But in a few months, I believe in January, the new standard will come into play it's where basically there's going to be three zones. Zero to five feet is zero, and then you have five to 30 feet is one, and then 30 to 100. So in the zone one you don't want to have the ladder fuel that you mentioned earlier, so fuels that could ignite and then ignite other bigger components. But the requirements are not super strict. And also, there's a lot of variation from property to property. And if you look at the regulations of CalFire, they will never ask you to remove a healthy tree, for example. But there are some things that you can do, for example, trimming the plants or removing the dead branches or remove the dead parts of the trees that could catch on fire. And those things could really help you making your house more fire resistant.
Farmer Fred 40:31
Yeah, and I guess if you're planting new trees, if you want to plant a lot of trees on your property that are, especially in the zone beyond 30 feet or so, when you're planting those trees, there probably should be about 12 feet, at least ,between trees.
Luca Carmignani 40:46
Yeah, yeah. And of course, it depends on the size of the tree. And the kind of the tree matters. If your tree has a lot of resin, they're very flammable. So you might not want to plant more than one. But definitely, there are some trees that you can look up that are like safer than others. For example, here in Southern California, a lot of utility companies or local agencies provide a list of trees that are relatively safe to plant around your house. So you can start from those guidelines and kind of like, get their feedback. usually local agencies, like fire authorities and so on are more than happy to provide you feedback and help in planning and planting the vegetation in order to have like a fire resistant landscape.
Farmer Fred 41:38
So give us some examples of trees that are more fire resistant.
Luca Carmignani 41:41
So one example that comes to my mind is a tree that has been promoted by San Diego Gas and Electric. It is the crape myrtle. And that tree is really good in terms of water efficient efficiency, but also the tree doesn't grow too tall, for example. So if you have a power line that is close by, it wouldn't affect it. Or it's something that you can prune easily and keep it contained. Those are examples of trees that you can plant. And I know for sure that for example, San Diego Gas and Electric has a list of like five or six trees that are determined safe. And then there's plenty more that you can blend in.
Farmer Fred 42:32
Yeah, the crape myrtle is an excellent summer blooming tree and like you say, it gets maybe 25 to 35 feet tall. It actually has a fairly wide range for California and other parts of the country as well. The crape myrtle, because it is a smaller tree, makes sense as being more suitable for a small backyard.
Luca Carmignani 42:56
Yeah, yeah. And it's very beautiful when you have all the flowers on.
Farmer Fred 43:00
Exactly, unless you have to clean them up. One problem with a crape myrtle and this is true of a lot of trees, is they sprout from the base. And you have to keep those sprouts pruned off in order to not create a fire ladder.
Luca Carmignani 43:18
Yeah, that is true. But in those situations, where you're really concerned about is not necessarily the sprouting, but all the that material that accumulates around the tree, because if you have all the sprouts at the base, it might be harder to like, you know, remove all the dead leaves, or although small branches. So that's something that you should focus on. Because those are the materials that would ignite in case of a fire. If you have like a green branch, very likely is not going to ignite right away unless it has something else close by that is burning.
Farmer Fred 43:54
There are plenty of shrubs that do a great job of hiding their dead material beneath the plant. And it's worth your while to get in there with a rake and remove that dead material.
Luca Carmignani 44:06
Yeah, and one big example is Acacia. That is very popular because it doesn't require a lot of water and it looks nice. And unfortunately, if you look underneath those bushes, there's a lot of flammable branches and a dead leaves. Those small branches just act like kindling.
Farmer Fred 44:28
unfortunately, there are a lot of California natives that have that problem. And you've got to pick them very carefully.
Luca Carmignani 44:37
Regarding the native plants, that's a little bit a different subject, because native plants or most of them are adapted to fire. So some of them actually want the fire and that's also why they're flammable themselves. Having native plants for a part of the yard could help. Definitely there are a lot of different native plants that you can use. So you can look up, for example, the Master Gardeners programs or other programs from the University of California Cooperative Extension. And they usually provide you with guidelines for your specific landscape. Because of course, it also depends on where you are.
Farmer Fred 45:17
Exactly. And there are master gardener groups or Cooperative Extension offices in every state. And if you're in a fire prone area, I bet your Cooperative Extension Office or local university has a list of appropriate plants for such a situation.
Luca Carmignani 45:31
Yes, yes, that's correct. It is important not just for the plant, but also, what is the moisture content of the plant? And can you burn better if it is irrigated less? Well, that's something that we don't really know. So part of my research will look at trees.
Farmer Fred 45:53
In this age of drought, especially here in California, lawns are not a very popular topic. However, lawns are fire resistant, if maintained and kept green.
Luca Carmignani 46:05
Yes, that's true, because grass is very fine. So when you go with those very fine materials, sometimes you get the opposite effect, they don't burn, especially because they have a lot of water, if they're well irrigated. And unfortunately, lawns are not very water friendly, especially in southern California.
Farmer Fred 46:26
I really see the value if you live in a fire prone area in that wildfire-urban interface of having a swimming pool to separate your house from the wildland.
Luca Carmignani 46:39
Unfortunately, here in Orange County, several of the houses burned down in the coastal fire in May had a swimming pool in front of the houses, a very big swimming pool. But that didn't protect their houses from burning down. And not because the flames couldn't reach the house, it is the embers that happen, in that situation, having a swimming pool doesn't really play an effect.
Farmer Fred 47:11
One reason we had a pool, and we lived in a in a wildfire prone area, we also had a generator, because once the fire gets going, chances are the electricity is going to disappear. So maybe having a generator, along with a pump that you can drop in a pool, and start the generator and then turn on roof sprinklers. Are roof sprinklers worth the investment.
Luca Carmignani 47:35
Well, in that situation, if the sprinkler can directly protect your house, but they can give you some extra time needed by the firefighters to reach the property and actively put out the fire. if you have like the actual sprinklers that are used like in warehouses or in residential properties, they can be very helpful, at least for like gaining some time.
Farmer Fred 48:13
Right, I was actually thinking of just running PVC pipes up to the roof and installing sprinklers up on top of the roof.
Luca Carmignani 48:20
this sounds like a big project. But you know, they could help. The problem, though, is that if the embers somehow gets to the inside of the house, then you know it's too late and the sprinklers won't be very effective.
Farmer Fred 48:42
And if the embers ignite somehow on the side of the house, it could melt the PVC pipe.
Luca Carmignani 48:49
Yeah, yeah, that's correct.
Farmer Fred 48:51
There goes that theory. Well, I tried. One thing a lot of homes have are chimneys. And I wonder how many of these chimneys have the proper spark arrestor on them?
Luca Carmignani 49:04
Well, that's a good point. Because, if you have chimneys or a complex roof, we like vertical intersections of the roof. Those are problematic because they usually accumulate all the debris, all the leaves, they end up there, so they could be ignited by embers, for example. So first of all, it's very important to keep those areas clean. And also, you know, embers could directly ignite the intersections. If you have a little crevice or if the roof is a little bit older. So what you can do in those situations is installed metal flashing at the intersections and that could really, really help, not only for possible water damage, but also for fire resistance.
Farmer Fred 49:58
So it's all about how having defensible space for your home. Defensible space, careful selection, location and maintenance of vegetation and other combustible materials on your property. You want to minimize the pathways of wildfire to burn directly to your home. You want to reduce the radiant heat exposures to the home and structures with that metal flashing, reducing the potential for embers to ignite vegetation adjacent to the home by basically removing all vegetation within five feet of the home, and also making it a safe place for fire personnel to defend the home and allow for safe routes for evacuation. We've been talking with Luca Carmignani, Assistant Fire advisor the wildland urban interface of the University of California Ag and Natural Resources. No matter where you live, i you're in a wildfire area, no doubt you have a Cooperative Extension Office, or an advisor or university that also has people like Luca on board to help you out, making your home more fire resistant. Luca, thank you so much for your time today.
Luca Carmignani 51:06
Well, thank you for having me. And if you want more information about what we do, you can check the UC ANR website. And if you Google “UCANR fire”, the first website that will come up is our website, where we have all of this information that we talked about today.
Farmer Fred 51:24
There you go. “UCANR fire”. Thank you.
Luca Carmignani 51:28
Thank you for having me.
“Beyond the Garden Basics” newsletter and podcast
Farmer Fred 51:39
In today's Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast, we talk with Douglas Kent. He's the author of the book, “Firescaping: Protecting Your Home with a Fire Resistant Landscape”. He has another view of thwarting home and yard damage for residents of the urban-wildland interface. These are property owners who are increasingly keeping a wary eye and nose in the air for smoke. But as we pointed out in the Garden Basics podcast this week in Episode 235, it's the threat not so much from flames creeping onto your property. It's more like blowing, burning embers hurtling towards your house from a wind driven wildfire. Those embers, which are also called firebrands, can travel a half mile or more from the actual fire itself. Their ferocity is supercharged by winds that can reach 60 miles an hour or more. And it's not just California. States throughout the west, northwest, southwest, inter Mountain West, and the South have been hit by massive wildfires. The Washington Post estimates that 16% of all Americans, who are on 80 million properties, face the threat of wildfire. You can read it and hear it on the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast . Find a link to it in today's show notes, or visit our website GardenBasics.net. That’s where you can sign up to have the free, Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast delivered to your inbox each Friday. Also at GardenBasics.net, you can listen to any of our previous editions of the Garden Basics podcast as well as read a transcript of the podcast episode that you're listening to now. For current newsletter subscribers, look for the episode entitled Firescaping”. It's in the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast now available. you'll get it in your email. Take a deeper dive into gardening with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast. It's free. Find the link in today's show notes at GardenBasics.net.
Farmer Fred 53:37
The Garden Basics With Farmer Fred podcast comes out once a week, on Fridays. Plus the newsletter podcast, that comes with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, continues, also released on Fridays. Both are free and are brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. The Garden Basics podcast is available wherever podcasts are handed out, and that includes our home page, Garden Basics dot net. , where you can also sign up for the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast. That’s Garden Basics dot net. or use the links in today’s show notes. And thank you so much for listening.
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