Orchard Villa Homeowners Association Vice President Alan Gillette stands inside the control room near the subdivision's community pool. Gillette came up with the idea to put solar panels on the roof of the subdivision's pool building, to use in place of natural gas. [Photo by Heila Ershadi / Moab Sun News]

The residents of Moab’s Orchard Villa subdivision want to be more environmentally friendly and healthier, and they are finding ways to save money in the process.

For the second year in a row, they will be using organic methods for landscape care, and they now have solar panels to heat the neighborhood pool.

The main entrance to Orchard Villa is on 500 West, where a stone sign depicting red rocks and trees bears the name of the neighborhood. A homeowners association oversees the 72-unit townhome development, which has an average home price of about $225,000, according to Orchard Villa Homeowners Association Vice President Alan Gillette.

The grounds contain about five acres of grass, according to Gillette, in addition to the many trees, flowers and bushes.

In making the decision to switch to organic landscape care, the homeowners association followed the example of two Orchard Villa residents, Victoria Fugit and Catherine Shank, who had been using organic techniques on their own property for years, according to Gillette.

Jeff Frost, whose company Frost Landscaping contracts with Orchard Villa, agreed to make the switch. Frost said he has been looking into the possibility of organic landscaping for years, and just needed a final push.

He also said that he noticed that the Orchard Villa residents who practiced organic landscaping had the “greenest yards.”

“If you have superior nutrition, then the grass is much stronger and it will crowd out most of the weeds,” he said.

Frost said that, when it comes to defining the term “organic,” there are as many definitions as people that you talk to about the word. But, according to Frost, the basic guideline as to what makes a product or technique organic is that it is both naturally occurring and not derived from petroleum.

“It can just mean letting something grow freely,” he said.

“But the people here want a higher standard of care and looks,” he added. “So, we’re required to make things look really good and at the same time use naturally occurring ingredients.”

Orchard Villa residents had a particular concern about the use of glyphosate for weed control. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide and the main ingredient in Roundup, according to the manufacturer Monsanto’s website.

“The primary reason was concerns about … what it was doing to the fauna,” Gillette said. “There’s some evidence that glyphosate is really bad for frogs. It was about protecting the animals more than anything.”

But, Gillette added, some residents had concerns about glyphosate’s impact on human health, as well.

The World Health Organization (WHO) website reports that the agency recently found “limited evidence” to indicate that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Monsanto contests these findings, according to its own website.

Frost said the move away from glyphosate “is called being responsible,” adding that organic techniques also have benefits for keeping the groundwater clean. The homeowners association is now using a chelated iron product called Iron X for weed control. Some weeds are also pulled by hand.

For fertilizer, Frost Landscaping is currently using a product made from corn and gluten, which also serves to suppress weeds.

“It’s expensive, but it’s really effective,” Frost said.

Frost said that most of the increase in cost from going organic has come from the corn and gluten fertilizer. The total cost of landscape care has gone from $3,300 per year to $6,600 under the organic regimen.

However, Frost said that he will probably switch to compost for fertilizer, at considerable savings. Compost is a soil amendment made from decomposed organic matter.

“After I pay for the machine to spread the compost, it will actually be cheaper than commercial fertilizer,” he said.

Frost is currently buying compost from the municipal composting facility in Grand Junction, Colorado. But he plans to switch to buying from a compost maker in Provo.

Frost explained that trucks hauling grain from Cortez, Colorado, and Monticello to the Provo area often come back empty, and he plans to hire these drivers to bring him a load of compost on their return. Frost says they will do this for a lower rate, because they would otherwise have to drive back with empty loads.

Gillette voiced his satisfaction with the outcome of the organic landscaping techniques.

“It looks very good now,” he said. “The grass is very green; I don’t see a lot of weeds. I’m very happy with it. I expected that we’d see more weeds, but that hasn’t been the case.”

While Orchard Villa was his first client to go exclusively organic, Frost said he “absolutely” expects to see more homeowners making that choice in the future, noting, “It’s becoming more politically correct … and more possible. There are more vendors who sell organic products.”

Frost also emphasized that not all organic products are of equal efficacy, and that his landscaping company always tests a product out for three years before it uses it on a client’s behalf.

Solar panels now heat community swimming pool

Gillette came up with the idea to put solar panels on the roof of the pool building, to use in place of natural gas.

“As one of the board members, I look at the budget and see how much money we spend on various things, including natural gas to heat the pool,” he said.

He decided to have a look and see what it would cost us to replace the natural gas with a solar energy system, and how long it would take to pay itself back.

“I put together a proposal for board members in 2014, and they put it in the 2015 budget,” Gillette reported.

Orchard Villa put the plan out for a bid, and Gillette himself was the lowest bidder.

“The whole system is costing us about $6,000,” Gillette said.

That price includes the cost of the panels as well as their installation, plus an anticipated $750 rebate from Questar.

Gillette said that last year the pool used about $1,200 of natural gas, while this year, the homeowners association expects to use approximately $200 worth of the fuel. Gillette calculated that at a savings of $1,000 per year, the panels will have paid for themselves in six years.

“Panels are guaranteed for 10 years, and oftentimes they last for 20,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money on upkeep.”

He also pointed out the environmental savings, saying, “We’re not going to burn $1,000 worth of gas (per year).”

Subdivision continues organic landscaping, heats community pool with solar panels

It looks very good now … The grass is very green; I don’t see a lot of weeds. I’m very happy with it. I expected that we’d see more weeds, but that hasn’t been the case.

To learn more, contact Gillette at 801-230-4932.