The Billings Outpost

Get chip cards now


DENVER–- A major transition is happening in America and small business owners who fail to act may pay a huge price. U.S. credit card companies have set October for the national adoption of chip cards (also known as EMV Cards).  Businesses that have not integrated EMV technology to process chip cards will become financially responsible for fraudulent transactions previously covered by the cardholder’s issuing bank.

Roughly 90 percent of credit card terminals in Europe are now chip-enabled. The United Kingdom has seen nearly a 70 percent decline in counterfeit card transactions since making the transition, according to Barclays. Meanwhile, America has 25 percent of the world’s credit card use but 50 percent of the world’s credit card fraud, making the case to shift from antiquated swipe-and-sign to microchips on credit cards.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is concerned that too many entrepreneurs in America are at risk of being left in the dark and on the hook. The majority of America’s small businesses will need to upgrade their payment systems, as only about 20 percent of payment terminals are currently equipped to accept chip cards, and most of these are at larger retailers. Accepting contactless payments also requires new technology for most businesses; a recent report shows that 87 percent of small businesses do not currently accept mobile payments. Depending on the cost of the goods and services that a small business sells, assuming fraud liability could have serious financial consequences.

Most small businesses do not have fraud departments and can’t afford to be behind the curve while their large competitors move forward with technology upgrades. That’s why the SBA partnered with Square to enhance payment security and to protect cardholder information. We’re educating small businesses on the transition to EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa) cards, so check out to make the switch.

Additionally, we rolled out a cybersecurity page for small employers at This includes an SBA self-paced online cybersecurity course and a free small biz cyber planner developed by the Federal Communications Commission. We also plan to host additional regional small business cybersecurity workshops from our long-standing partnership with the FBI and National Institute of Standards and Technology.

It’s crucial to invest in EMV readers and other digital technologies to prevent cybersecurity fraud and protect the integrity of customers’ sensitive data. Many new EMV-enabled and contactless systems are just hitting the market. There are many affordable hardware solutions that will not break the bank of our small businesses. In fact, accessories to complement existing payment terminals are already available, with more coming online every day.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month; therefore, we hope your small business joins the movement to switch to EMV technology. It will prevent risk for your customers, and most importantly, protect your bottom line.

Stanley Nakano is acting regional administrator for Region VIII of the U.S. Small Business Administration.


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 22:19

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Unemployment still falling

HELENA – Montana’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in September to 4.1 percent, a decline of 0.1 percentage points from the revised August estimate of 4.2 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate remained unchanged over the month at 5.1 percent.

“Montana’s economy continues to show strength as we head toward the end of the year,” Gov. Steve Bullock said.  “Over 10,000 jobs have been added over the last twelve months, and wages are outpacing the national average.”

Both total employment and payroll employment levels showed little change over the month.  Payroll employment indicated a 900 jobs loss over the month, with job losses in the construction industry.  Construction employment had shown strength over the last year.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 22:18

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Certain insurance rates to rise 34 percent here

U.S. Health & Human Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week released a rate snapshot of health insurance marketplace rates for plans offered in Montana that shows there will be a 34.50 percent increase for second-lowest cost silver plans offered in 2016.

These increases do not take into account advance premium tax credits, which lower the monthly costs for the overwhelming majority of Marketplace consumers. About 8 in 10 individuals who selected a 2015 Marketplace plan qualified for financial assistance, and the average advance premium tax credits for those enrollees who qualified for financial assistance was $270 per month. The entire report can be found below.

Open Enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace starts on Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31. Consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 to have coverage that starts Jan. 1. Consumers can find help by calling 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) at any time or find in-person assistance in the local area by visiting

According to an HHS analysis, about 8 out of 10 returning consumers will be able to buy a plan with premiums less than $100 a month after tax credits; and about 7 out of 10 will have a plan available for less than $75 a month. Highlights of the 2016 Marketplace Affordability Snapshot include:

• New HHS data indicates that in 2016 nearly 8 in 10 returning Marketplace consumers will be able to buy a plan with premiums less than $100 month after tax credits.

• In addition, about 7 in 10 returning Marketplace consumers will be able to buy a plan for $75 or less in monthly premiums after tax credits in 2016.

• The average rate increase for a benchmark plan across 30 of the largest markets, representing 60 percent of Marketplace enrollees, is 6.3 percent. This rate increase does not account for the benefit provided by tax credits to eligible consumers.

• Across all markets in the 37 states, the cost of the benchmark plan will increase an average of 7.5 percent.

• For 2016, over two thirds of counties will have three or more issuers.

• New analysis based on the second open enrollment found that those returning consumers who switched plans within the same metal tier saved an average of nearly $400 on their 2015 annualized premiums after tax credits as compared to those who stayed in their same plans.

The 2016 Affordability Snapshot provides a review of the final rate increases for second-lowest cost silver plans, known as benchmark plans, which will be available for purchase in the 37 states that used the platform in 2015, including those in the federally facilitated Marketplace, State Partnership Marketplaces, and supported State-based Marketplaces.

Across all 37 states that used the platform, the cost of the benchmark plan will increase on average 7.5 percent in 2016. For those consumers who live in 30 of the largest markets representing more than 60 percent of total enrollment, the average increase in premiums for the benchmark plan is 6.3 percent for the second-lowest cost silver plan.

These increases do not take into account advanced payments of premium tax credits, which lower the monthly costs for the overwhelming majority of Marketplace consumers.

“For most consumers, premium increases for 2016 are in the single digits and they will be able to find plans for less than $100 a month,” said Kevin Counihan, CEO of the Health Insurance Marketplaces.

The second-lowest cost silver plan is notable because it serves as the benchmark plan to calculate the amount of advanced premium tax credit consumers may be eligible for to help lower the cost of their Marketplace coverage. Looking across all “metal levels” of plans available, silver plans are the most popular plans on the Marketplace. About 70 percent of consumers enrolled in silver plans, with approximately 11 percent of all consumers enrolled in the second-lowest cost silver plans in 2015.

When open enrollment begins, consumers will be encouraged to visit to browse their coverage options to find the plan that best meets their budget and health needs.

Last year, almost 53 percent of consumers who re-enrolled in a Marketplace plan shopped around with more than half of those selecting a new plan. The average consumer who switched plans saved money on his or her net premium, based on a forthcoming HHS analysis of Open Enrollment in 2015. Net premiums are premiums minus the amount of applicable tax credit – the amount that is paid by a consumer. Those who switched plans within the same metal tier saved an average of nearly $400 on their 2015 annualized premiums after tax credits as compared to those who stayed in their same plans.

“If consumers come back to the Marketplace and shop, they may be able to find a plan that saves them money and meets their health needs,” according to Counihan.

 “Last year, over half of re-enrolling consumers on shopped and half of those who shopped selected a new plan – that sort of choice and competition was limited prior to the Affordable Care Act.”

Premium spending for consumers in the benchmark plans also are capped based on their income, so a returning consumer who chooses this year’s benchmark plan may offset any potential rate increase. Additionally, advanced premium tax credits adjust with the cost of benchmark plans, so consumers who choose the benchmark plan will see an increase in their tax credits that roughly matches their premium increases. This illustrates why it’s important for consumers to shop – no matter what type of plan they have.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 22:12

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Printing services offered

The Allegra FootPRINT Fund®, launched this month, will help Yellowstone County area nonprofit organizations “leave a footprint” in the community by awarding print services for promotional and informational materials.

The Allegra FootPRINT Fund will award $10,000 annually to nonprofit organizations and associations seeking financial assistance for graphic design and printing of brochures, newsletters, forms, invitations, posters and other print communications, a news release said. Applicants that qualify are eligible to receive up to $1,000 each in 2016.

Allegra launched the FootPRINT Fund as part of its Community Care Campaign, which also includes Posters With a Purpose, a program that provides free posters to nonprofits to help advertise their fund-raising or event awareness efforts.

To be considered for a FootPRINT Fund award, nonprofit groups, associations and charitable organizations with a main office or branch in Yellowstone County must submit a completed application by Nov. 30. Application forms may be obtained at Allegra or at

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 22:09

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NILE ready to blast into week at MetraPark


Since its inception in 1967, the Northern International Livestock Exposition brings outstanding events to Billings. This year’s NILE stock show and rodeo is no exception.

Kicking of three days earlier than years past, the grounds at MetraPark will be buzzing with livestock as early as the tenth of October. The action wraps up Saturday evening, Oct. 17, with the final night of professional rodeo in the Rimrock Auto Arena.

The NILE is all about kids and this year leads with the Junior Fed shows, highlighting the hard work and efforts of the youth. Visitors are welcome to attend any one of the four junior shows beginning with the market hog show Sunday, Oct. 11, at noon in the Montana Pavilion. 

The spotlight continues to shine on the youngsters through Tuesday, Oct. 13, culminating with the NILE Junior Fed Sale of Champions at 5 p.m. This is an outstanding opportunity to reward these hard working kids by purchasing their projects and allowing them a leg up for next year’s project. Most of these kids are involved for the love of agriculture, but also in effort to build college funds. Come on out and support the future!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 October 2015 18:49

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Progeny parade planned

The third annual NILE Merit Heifer Progeny Pen Parade, presented by Cargill is Friday, Oct. 16 at the Northern International Livestock Exposition (NILE).

 The Progeny Pen Parade was developed so past NILE Merit Heifer recipients could showcase the breeding program they have developed since completion of the NILE Merit Heifer Program. Each previous winner can bring back their original Merit Heifer along with their progeny. 

Cash prizes of $2,500 are up for grabs and recipients from the very first class of 2003 through the class of 2014 are eligible for the 2015 Progeny Pen Parade. Each exhibitor will be asked to present their project and will be judged by a panel of judges in three main areas: exhibitor presentation and ring presence, presentation of cattle, and phenotype of cattle.

“The Progeny Pen Parade is a unique way for youth to showcase their animals,” said Jennifer Boka, NILE General Manager.

, “It allows past participants of the NILE Merit Heifer program the opportunity to explain their breeding philosophy. This is a program that truly makes a lasting impression in kids’ lives.”

 ”When the NILE approached Cargill about sponsoring the Merit Heifer program, we were honored to participate,” said Rachel Klein, Cargill retail account representative, who will be assisting with the event. 

Each exhibitor is given $100 worth of Cargill cattle feed or mineral, a soft shell vest and the opportunity to win $2,500 prize money - all donated by Cargill. “The NILE Merit Heifer program and Progeny Pen Parade exemplify the values of Cargill,” added Klein, “Our goal at Cargill is to be the global leader in nourishing people, and that vision comes to life through the NILE Merit Heifer Progeny Pen Parade.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 October 2015 18:47

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Alliance trying to save historic schoolhouses

Hill School, recently rehabilitated with a Preserve Montana Fund grant, proudly shines against the Montana landscape. Photo by the Montana Preservation Alliance
By CHRISTINE BROWN - Montana Preservation Alliance

Montana is well known for its breathtaking mountain views, majestic lakes and vast expanses of open prairie, but one new study is honing in on a particular type of building often seen within those iconic viewsheds – the country schoolhouse.

At one time, there were an estimated 2,600 rural schools in Montana. Beginning with the missions and gold camps, schoolhouses became essential community institutions and in the era of statehood and homesteading, they multiplied across the state. Today, Montana has more one- and two-room schools still in operation than any other state. Those still in operation are in good shape, but many of these beloved historic buildings are in urgent need of care and upkeep. Unless painting, roofing and repairs are done, these schools will be lost, erasing an essential part of Montana’s heritage.

That’s why the Montana Preservation Alliance recently has launched the Big Sky Schoolhouse Survey, a comprehensive statewide architectural survey and evaluation of Montana’s historic rural one- and two-room schoolhouses. In every corner of the state, rural heritage is reflected by log, wood, brick and stone schools from days gone by.

As time marches on, many school districts, rural communities and citizens struggle to maintain these handcrafted buildings. To that end, MPA announced this new effort to spotlight Montana’s rural schoolhouses and to work to preserve them.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 20:23

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Dietary supplements may be hazardous to health



Americans spend about $33 billion a year on dietary supplements, many of which promise things like weight-loss, enhanced cognitive function, and increased muscle mass.

According to Dr. Pieter Cohen, a practicing physician and professor at Harvard University, supplements purporting such benefits - in particular weight-loss pills - can largely be divided into two categories: those that work, and those that are safe.

This stance is based on a disturbing and widespread practice among supplement makers to add amphetamine-like stimulants to their products. Some of these stimulants have never been tested on humans. Those that have been tested are widely considered dangerous.

While ostensibly overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, the supplement industry is regulated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), a law that shields supplements from the inconvenience of scientific scrutiny. The DSHEA, Dr. Cohen wrote in the Harvard Public Health Review, “... creates perverse incentives for unscrupulous manufacturers to out-compete legitimate companies by adding undeclared, illegal ingredients including prescription medications, banned drugs and even entirely novel chemical compounds.”

To make matters worse, as detailed in a recent New York Times story, there is a suspiciously well-traveled revolving door between the supplement industry and the agency that is supposed to regulate it.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 20:13

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Westpark Village recognized

Westpark Village, a senior living community in Billings announced last week that it has received the 2015 Excellence in Action award from My InnerView by National Research Corporation.

This is the third consecutive year that Westpark Village has been recognized with workforce satisfaction in assisted living award.

The community is one of only three winners in the state of Montana, along with The Village Senior Residence in Missoula, which is also managed by The Goodman Group.

This honor recognizes long-term care and senior living organizations that achieve the highest levels of satisfaction excellence, as demonstrated by overall resident or employee satisfaction scores that fall within the top 10 percent of the My InnerView product database, the largest in the U.S.

“The Excellence in Action award isn’t just any quality performance award,” said Jason Stevens, senior vice president of business development at national research. “Rather, it’s an award that defines what it means for providers to provide the right kind of care – patient-centered care – for their residents, families, and employees. It’s an honor and well-deserved accomplishment for repeat winners and new organizations alike.”

“We are very proud to be recognized a third consecutive year for reaching the top 10 percentile in the areas of willingness to recommend as a place to receive care, and appreciate our employees’ dedication to providing exceptional Platinum Service for our residents,” said Tina Vauthier, executive director of Westpark Village.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 20:12

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Some argue that locavores will destory world

Efficient or not, farmers markets have their charms. Photo by djjewelz on flickr

In the last 20 years, the amount of local foods consumed in the American diet has tripled, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and now makes up 2 percent of food consumed in the U.S.

As with anything that’s popular, some have seen fit to tear it down. Why do they do this? Do they find the locavores to be annoying, or do they seriously believe, as many argue, that local food enthusiasts pose a threat to the planet?

Thanks to the farm-to-table movement, menus have become dense with information, as chefs detail the life histories of every ingredient in every dish. This focus comes increasingly at the expense of the finished product, according to food critic Corby Kummer in Vanity Fair. While Kummer has nothing against locally sourced foods - he’s a fan, in fact - he’s becoming weary of the “farmwashing” craze.

He mentions a talented Silicon Valley chef, David Kinch, as an example of how less can be more. Kinch works closely with a local farm for much of his produce, but doesn’t gloat about it in the menu.

“You could appreciate the fact that many of the ingredients came from 13 miles down the road, or not. But you didn’t need to listen to a word about the farmer, or how his pigs went to Montessori school. That’s what the future of farm-to-table should be: food that speaks for itself without having to tell you where it comes from.”

A darker side of the exhausting menu trend was recently exposed in San Diego Magazine, which detailed cases of straight-up menu fraud.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 September 2015 19:31

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Conduct energy audit


Don’t let energy inefficiencies affect your home’s comfort or utility usage.This fall, why not consider making needed improvements in your home to help increase energy efficiency and save big in the long run?

Here is a short checklist for a DIY home energy audit.

• Seal Air Leaks: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, sealing air leaks around the house can save up to 30 percent of energy costs annually.

To find leaks, conduct a thorough visual inspection for gaps and cracks by baseboards, where the walls and ceiling meet, around door frames, and near cable and phone line wall plates.

Spot a gap? Caulk it. Use painter’s tape for a cleaner job. Hold the caulking gun at an angle for best results, and apply in a continuous stream.

Improve insulation around windows and doors with weather-stripping. Measure the gap you need to fill to identify the width of weather-stripping needed and determine whether you should apply it from the inside or outside.

Before starting, read the package instructions to ensure you’re using the right materials. Cut to size and install.

Lastly, check if your fireplace flue is open. If so, close it when not in use for additional savings.

• Make Smart Upgrades: One quick way to check your windows for inefficiencies is to look for condensation, frost and other moisture.

The Department of Energy also recommends closing your windows on a dollar bill. If you can easily pull the bill out, the window might be losing substantial energy and may require repair or replacement.

Additionally, ENERGY STAR reports that homeowners who choose windows that have earned the ENERGY STAR save an average $101-$538 a year when replacing single-pane windows.

If it’s time for an upgrade, look for ENERGY STAR qualified windows that offer innovative technologies and improve energy efficiency.

• Change Behavior: Do an audit of not only your home’s features, but of the occupants as well. From switching to cold water laundry cycles to taking advantage of sunlight for warmth and light — modifications of energy and cost-saving resources don’t need to be a sacrifice.

To save energy, improve the comfort of your home and do your part to be more environmentally conscientious, conduct a do-it-yourself energy audit. You’ll likely discover many areas in your home that should be improved.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:34

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LED bulbs paying off


The use of LED bulbs in homes is on the rise nationwide, and with good reason. Not only are they more energy efficient than their traditional counterparts, LEDs are becoming more affordable upfront.

Indeed, of the United States’ four billion residential light bulb sockets, less than 10 percent are filled with LED lighting; but by 2020, more than 50 percent will be LED, according to industry estimates. This year alone, the consumer lighting market is anticipated to more than double with LED, while traditional CFL bulb usage is expected to decrease.

LED is not a new technology and has been on the market for years. So what is driving this sudden consumer shift? New light bulb designs are making these cost-efficient bulbs more convenient, attractive and affordable. In fact, certain designs retail as low as under $10 for a three-pack of bulbs.

For example, GE Lighting’s new Bright Stik bulb’s slender, sleek design is offered both in soft white and daylight, and fits in more sockets and fixtures compared to its general purpose CFL bulb counterpart. It has a rated life of 15,000 hours and should last nearly 14 years, at a cost of 10 cents per month based on three hours of operation daily and 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:29

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Easy ways to clean kitchen


The kitchen is the perfect place for family time, entertaining and socializing. With all this activity, it’s bound to get a little disorganized. What’s more, the kitchen is actually listed as the “germiest” area in the home, according to a study by NSF International (the National Sanitation Foundation).

Have no fear! Simple solutions can combat common kitchen cleaning conundrums.

• A Messy Pantry: It’s no secret that many homeowners keep pantry doors shut for a reason — it can get a little chaotic inside.

Kick the clutter. If an item has been in the pantry for three months or more, you likely won’t use it. Toss expired items and donate any non-perishables you aren’t going to use.

Next, wipe down pantry shelves to remove dust and crumbs from hard-to-reach corners. Before restocking shelves, lay down a non-adhesive shelf liner to protect newly cleaned shelves.

• Refrigerator Leaks: Between fresh produce, dairy, meat and leftovers, there’s a lot going on inside a fridge. Make it a habit every few months to wash the inside of your refrigerator, even the shelves and drawers (a location where many stubborn spills tend to be forgotten). A natural cleaning solution, like Green Works All-Purpose Cleaner is best for this area in the kitchen. It’s safe to use on a variety of surfaces throughout the kitchen and it’s 98 percent naturally derived, so you can be confident that it won’t leave behind harsh chemical fumes or residue.

• Dirty, Smelly Sponges: Sponges are a kitchen staple, and also the germiest item in the entire kitchen, according to NSF research. And after only a few uses, they can develop a foul-smelling odor. Luckily, there’s a quick fix for getting a sponge back in proper cleaning condition. Simply wet the sponge and pop it in the microwave for two minutes to eliminate germs. Ta-da! It’s ready to use.

• Grimy Cabinets and Streaky Surfaces: From greasy little hands going in for snacks to frequent opening and closing during meal-prep, grease and grime on kitchen cabinets and door handles can accumulate quickly — spreading germs and making your kitchen look dirty!

To disinfect and deodorize cabinets and other non-porous surfaces, a good bet is Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. First, remove any excess debris and then use enough wipes for the surface to remain visibly wet for four minutes. For food-contact surfaces, rinse with clean water. To clean hard, nonporous kitchen cabinet exteriors, wipe the cabinet on the outside and let it dry. Making it a practice to wipe down cabinets weekly will prevent a lot of grease and build-up in the long run.

Carve out an afternoon for cleaning remedies that will knock out the mess and pesky germs in no time.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:23

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Add beauty to your home


Making home upgrades? Why not make style a priority? There are many easy ways to add beauty to your home in the most unlikely spaces.

• Striking Bathroom: Performance and aesthetics can intersect when making bathroom changes. Upgrade water-hogging appliances with modern, efficient models that are stylish and easily maintained. These choices can save you money on water bills and time on cleaning day.

Some designs, such as the Cascade high efficiency toilet (HET) from Mansfield Plumbing, even promote health. Its rimless design eliminates the germs and bacteria that hide in difficult-to-access areas. Both the round front bowl and elongated SmartHeight bowl design are approved to meet EPA standards for water efficiency, using just 1.28 gallons per flush — a savings of 20 percent more water than older models.

If you have young children at home, consider adding a stylish Elementary juvenile toilet to a bathroom. Less than a foot high, the child-sized toilet makes potty training much more fun and successful.

• Quick Design Elements: Installing decorative polyurethane millwork pieces makes for a fast, easy project, even for novice do-it-yourselfers. Only have an hour? Use out-of-the-box-and-onto-the-house pieces from a brand like Fypon, which come pre-primed and ready for installation. Try these five transformative projects:

• Surround your foyer entryway with pilasters and a crosshead. While you’re at it, surround room dividers with pilasters and a crosshead to make transitioning between rooms a unique experience.

• Add a two-piece ceiling medallion around the top of a light fixture or ceiling fan in less than 10 minutes. Interlocking pieces snap together quickly.

• For a bathroom upgrade, install moisture-resistant pilasters on both sides of your shower stall and a door crosshead overhead.

• Give tops of bathroom and kitchen cabinets style with corbels. Accent a boring kitchen island with decorative brackets or corbels.

• Add a large sunburst window pediment half round above a bed to serve as a decorative headboard.

• Add Style Anywhere: Even your most utilitarian spaces deserve a style makeover. And windows are a good place to start. Whether your home is modern, contemporary or traditional, say goodbye to plain panes. Acrylic block, glass block or decorative glass windows in any room — even a closet — add privacy and light.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:22

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To get that garden going, practice lawnicide



When Michelle Obama converted part of her lawn into a garden seven years ago, she made it look easy. And lawn killing certainly can be easy, depending on your game plan. Or it can be a difficult, frustrating failure.

The first lady’s method was detailed in a story on The Atlantic online, written by the son of the farmer who assisted her. Organic soil from a nearby farm in Pennsylvania was trucked down Pennsylvania Avenue and dumped into wooden frames on the White House lawn.

This is a perfectly good tactic, if you have the resources, and want to garden in raised beds. Assuming you do, it is without question the quickest way to convert lawn into garden.

For demonstration gardens, or for gardeners with limited space or little tolerance for mess, raised beds can be a great system. But for large plots of land, a ground-level garden comes with more options, and less carpentry involved.

To kill lawn for a ground-level garden, you can either take the easy way, which works, or your choice of hard ways, which don’t.

The easy way is to cover the lawn with plastic and wait for it to die. A more common approach is to dig up your lawn, pulling out the grass as you go. Even if you use a tiller, this is backbreaking work that usually fails, because roots, including little pieces of chopped roots, will inevitably stay in the ground. Grass roots are extremely hardy, and will re-sprout, sending their grassy whiskers throughout your new garden, and quickly rebuilding a network of roots.

Meanwhile, all the plant material that is removed from the soil represents fertility leaving the garden. To be fair, the pulled-up grass could be composted, but then there is still the matter of the roots remaining in the soil.

Another bad tactic is to cut and remove the sod where you want to plant. As with digging the grass, enough of the roots will likely be left behind that the lawn will return. And by removing sod, you’re not only losing the potential fertility of the grass, but the actual fertility of the topsoil bound in its roots. And you’ll need to import dirt to replace the sod and bring the garden up to ground level.

So unless you’re building raised beds, tarping is the way to go. After a few months under the summer sun, the grass and roots will have been transformed into worm poop, and your lawn will be a garden.

The only downside to tarping is you have to plan ahead, and then be patient. While it involves very little active work, you have to wait about 10 weeks. So if you’re hoping to turn your turf into tomatoes this year, it’s not going to happen (unless you ignore my advice, use the shovel, and do battle with an endless parade of grass shoots from your tomato patch).

The news that you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, garden in your lawn this summer might come as a disappointment, but here’s a consolation prize: If you pull off that plastic late next summer, it will be the perfect time to plant garlic.

Garlic is planted in fall, sprouts in springtime, and proceeds to shoot up quickly and impressively. At the time of this writing (in May) my garlic is knee-high, and gearing up to produce bulbs this summer. If your winters are mild enough, you could also plant hearty greens, like kale, in your former lawn, and let them overwinter. But I prefer garlic, because ... garlic!

Whatever you choose to plant in the lawn’s wake, the cause of death will remain the same. Black plastic is ideal. White plastic reflects too much light and won’t heat up enough, while clear plastic can get hot enough to kill soil bacteria and send the bugs crawling to deeper, cooler quarters.

Black plastic is widely available, usually in rolls, at hardware or garden stores - if not, it can be ordered. You want it about 2-4 mils thick (“mil” being the unit of thickness used to measure tarp thickness).

Before laying down the tarp, I like to dig a narrow trench around the perimeter of the garden plot that I’m envisioning. I toss the shovelfuls of dug sod into the middle of garden spot. This step isn’t necessary, but it helps me visualize the garden to come.

Eventually, the converted lawn is going to need some kind of border, in order to ensure that the surrounding grass doesn’t re-colonize its former turf. Such a barrier, like lawn edging, will be easier to install once the grass is dead. But keep this future step in mind.

On a non-windy day, place your plastic on the future garden spot. If the plot requires multiple pieces, try to cut the plastic as few times as necessary, producing as few pieces as possible. The pieces should overlap one another by at least a foot or two; don’t allow any cracks between the plastic sheets.

As you lay out the plastic, cover it with objects to weigh it down. Almost anything with any density to it will work as a weight, including bricks, blocks, boards, buckets and bicycles, as well as items that don’t begin with “B.”

It’s especially important to weigh down the outer edge - fill the trench with heavy items - and along the edges where two pieces of plastic come together. You want to make sure that no wind can get under the tarp.

Then, sit back and let the microbes, pill bugs and worms do their thing. You may be losing lawn, but hang onto that lawn chair. You’ll need it for sitting, while you sip something cold, as your lawn dies a slow death.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:20

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