Our Soil is 100 Years in the Making, a Hundred-year-old Cottonwood

When all trees are trimmed like Palm Trees, you don’t get coconuts; Let’s make Soil, Biomass energy, produce shipping crates

By Gregory Jackson
COO & Co-Founder
Groundz Recycling LLC

Our Soil is 100 Years in the Making, a Hundred-year-old Cottonwood

The Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides, is popular in late June early July, for its copious amounts of fluffy cotton-like seeds. The scientific name “deltoides” refers to the tree’s distinct triangular leaves, which flutter in the wind. In the 1800’s, pioneers used to use the Cottonwood as an identification of nearby water. The Mohave Indians ate the catkins and inner bark for medicine, and the Hopi and Pueblo made their kachina dolls from Cottonwood roots, where they believed good spirits lived.

“Eastern cottonwood is a very fast-growing, short-lived tree (less than 125 years old). It is common on sand dunes, beach flats and wetlands along Lake Erie,” said Dr James Bissell, Curator of Botany, Coordinator of Natural Areas, Director of the Center for Conservation and Biodiversity at Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

“Large, deep swamps on the Lake Erie Lake Plain and Cornbelt Till Plain are another natural habitat for the tree,” said Bissell. “It rots fairly quickly. It can be used as kindling for wood stoves and fireplaces. It is quite light in weight and is not a preferred species for wood stoves.”

Our cottonwood was found growing near a parking lot and a corporate center.

Over the weekend, Groundz Recycling was invited to a commercial property with a 100-year old Cottonwood tree scheduled to get cut down. It took eight men three hours to cut the Cottonwood down, and then chipped into sawdust/mulch. We did not recycle anywhere near the whole tree, but we did manage to salvage about 200+ pounds (28 pounds/cubic foot at 12% moisture content), since we are a new company we do not have the resources yet to move larger amounts of material in one trip, and the landscapers went ahead and removed the rest.

Living in Tree Years
When we get invited to recycle historic sources of carbon for use in our soils, we take the time to reflect on what this tree has lived through.

1. On February 1 New York City’s Grand Central Terminal reopens as the world’s largest train station.
2. March 4 US passes the first law regulating the shooting of migratory song birds.
3. March 25 the Great Dayton Flood.
4. April 24 Woolworth Building in New York City, designed by Cass Gilbert, opens as the world’s tallest building for a decade.
5. May 14 Rockefeller Foundation is founded on a $100,000,000 donation from John D. Rockefeller.
6. June 13 International Railway, New York – Ontario, trolley and passengers get buried under garbage after an overhead chute breaks in Niagara Falls New York.
7. October 31 Lincoln-Highway, first automobile road, is dedicated.
8. November 7-11 Great Lakes Storm of 1913 kills more than 250 people.
9. December 1 Ford Motor Company introduces first use of the assembly line, manufacturing chassis from 12.5 hours in October to 2 hours and 40 minutes, sparks mass production.
10. December 23 The Federal Reserve is created by Woodrow Wilson.
(Source: Wikipedia for “1913”)

Not to mention this tree living through two world wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflicts around the world up until Saturday, or Cleveland, Ohio’s great flood of 1913.

(Photo: 400 pounds of 100-year-old Cottonwood sawdust/mulch, Groundz Recycling LLC was able to recycle 200+ sawdust/mulch at a Corporate Center site).

The story of chopping down a 100-year old Cottonwood started nine months ago.

As we begin assisting landscaping companies and tree services, we have noticed that many of these companies may not be using arborists to trim trees away from hazards like power lines, parking lots, and buildings. There is a tendency for tree trimming service companies to trim trees like “Palm trees” removing and exaggerating their cuts. While the great power failure in Northeast Ohio was caused by a storm swept tree, which fell on a First Energy power line, many tree trimming services believe you cannot cut too many tree branches. However, before the 100-year old Cottonwood was cut down it looked like a tree from the movie “Jurassic Park.”

“Poorly trimmed trees are everywhere and it is nothing new,” said Roger Gettig, Director of Horticulture and Conservation, at The Holden Arboretum. “Eastern cottonwood is a fast-growing, weak-wooded floodplain species. Grows fast, grows big, doesn’t usually live long… It should decompose quickly (compared with Oak, for example).”

Other Uses of Removed Tree Lumber
While we will continue to recycle organic matter like trees, it just dawns on us that perhaps trees ought to come down if they pose an immediate danger to people or property damage, not from neglect and haphazard cuts made by tree service companies. In all cases, when trees are required to get chopped down the contractors doing so never comment on the poor cutting decisions made by previous tree trimmers. The damage to structural support is obvious, but the trees are removed without taking notice of it. Further, even if trees must come down, we believe there is a greater use of the wood like Cottonwood. For example, the amount of wood procured from this tree would have been enough wood to craft fruit, berry, and produce crates; more than enough to gather all our urban farms’ harvest for the next 10 years, or veneer for economical furniture. The tree was also used to make canoes from hollowed-out logs. Or interior decorated and design from threatened wood, like pine in the Rocky Mountains, for the effects of an insect or fungus threatening the survival of a species, as in the Colorado case of the mountain pine beetle. Groundz will continue to communicate and collaborate with our designer woodworkers to work on innovative and chic partnership opportunities between them and tree services, or places like Green Circle Growers.

“A place like Green Circle Growers would take most tree biomass and use it to heat their greenhouses,” said Gettig. “Some companies who do tree removals are savvy enough to save high-quality saw-logs and transport them to local sawmills for sale. Cottonwood would be near the bottom of their list due to its qualities compared to hardwoods.”

There are certainly local opportunities with Cleveland Metroparks’ and other conservation organizations who manage their invasive species initiatives. For instance, the Emerald Ash Borer threatening thousands of trees across Northeast Ohio and millions of trees within Zones 3-9. Rather than waste the resource there can be innovative approaches to management, like learning if there’s an Ash use for veneers, cabinets, and carpentry crafts. Another example is garlic mustard for wholesale at some of our restaurant partners, in gourmet salads, instead spraying this food crop as an invasive species.

Making Soil from Hundred-Year old Trees
We will be using 200 pounds of a 100-year old Cottonwood tree sawdust/mulch to make a special edition organic soil at Maggie’s Farm, one of our urban farm locations. To make our first-year of Groundz (being in business) limited edition soil to a limited amount of customers, no per cubic yard sale will be available, the soil will only be available in 5-gallon bucket sales. We have already used 25 pounds of this Cottonwood tree sawdust/mulch to recycle two days of coffee grounds from Dunkin Donuts, and for the next 3 weeks use the rest, at our urban farm composting site at Maggie’s Farm, located on West 61 Street. We expect this soil to be ready in early May 2014.


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