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Campus trees given salt bath

by Archives March 28, 2001 0 comment
The thought of drinking a salty glass of water is not often one which appeals to many people. The same is true for plants.
In many agricultural hotbeds of the world, farmers become concerned when the land that they work undergoes the transformation process from being healthy fertile crop soil to saline-sodic soil, or rather soil which contains high amounts of soluble salt and sodium.
As the concentration of salts in soil rise, they can often kill vegetation that had been growing there by depriving plants of necessary nutrients and adversely
effecting the pH levels of the soil. While this is not the case for every type of vegetation, if you’re not planning to grow barley, sugar beets or tall wheat grass in whatever soil you may have at your disposal, salt concentrations may be of concern to you.
Be it in a backyard, a planter, the strip of grass in front of your building that the landlord fondly refers to as the front yard or even on the greener campus space of Loyola, the soil in your life, that provides your senses the pleasures of grass to roll in, trees to climb and flowers to smell, deserves to be taken care of.
Studying at Concordia, one may not necessarily have the time to ponder the consequences of sprinkling chemicals into the soils around them, in the same way
that an agronomist might, but just because someone is not prone to reflect on this aspect of our more natural environment it should not be flatly ignored.
Anjum Sharif is a chemical engineer who works in Pakistan. His principle job function is to help with the management of saline-sodic soils so that they
produce high labour intensity yields. This does not mean that he is in charge of forcing people to work the farmlands of Pakistan but rather he tries to force
the farmlands to work for people. One of the ways in which Sharif accomplishes his task is through the addition of calcium chloride to the soils. According to
Sharif, this can increase cereal production on salty land by 400%.
Calcium is the active ingredient found in gypsum, a product used by many western gardeners and farmers to produce similar effects to those Sharif is creating in
Pakistan.
While we know that certain chemicals can be used to improve soil fertility, other compounds, like salt, prove to have a very negative effect.
Inevitably, in a city like Montreal, salt is a staple commodity. We put it on our french fries, in our muffin mixes, cure our meats with it and of course
spread it across the city’s slippery winter roads.
With an effective melting point at around 12 degrees Fahrenheit or -11 degrees Celsius, salt is an affordable solution to saving peoples lives when the streets
and highways become virtual bumper car skating rinks.
Then when the spring comes, plows whisk the remaining guck of snow, salt and slush away. Only not at Concordia.
At Loyola, where the end of winter actually leaves piles of snow on campus that the city of Montreal does not remove, the university takes care to stack what’s
left into piles and clear the numerous footpaths that connect the campus’ many building.
It seems, however, that this year, the pushing aside of Loyola’s snow drifts has been done at the expense of some of the campus’ lovelier trees. Instead of
moving the leftover muck onto a stagnant patch of campus dirt or into one of the empty campus corners, Concordia’s snow removal experts decided to pile all of
the snow up around the bases of more than a half dozen trees which sit in the middle of the courtyard on the West side of the campus between the Bryan building, the Drummond Science building and the Administration building.
With treatment like this it’s no wonder that some of the trees on campus have continued to look somewhat glummer than many of their companion neighborhood
N.D.G. trees which also weathered the region’s recent ice storm.
While the salt deposits left at the bases of Loyola’s trees probably won’t kill them, it can’t possibly help them burst with buds, open their leaves and stretch further up toward sky when the growing season comes around.
What’s disappointing is that the piles of snow reign high around the bases of many university trees when there is an ample abundance of vacant corners in the area where the snow could be piled to melt without letting a heavy salt content seep directly into Loyola soils.

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