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Gardener, 97, patents irrigation system plants love, mosquitoes don't

Salvatore "Sam" Maggiacomo spends a lot of time thinking about water. • "I've always been interested in water," he says. "We have a problem with water all over the world. • "I've been reading this book, Blue Covenant by Maude Barlow. Not only reading but studying it. When I got to reading books like this, I realized the world's interests in water."

So a few years ago, the certified general contractor started working on his idea for irrigating plants using the rainwater splashing off his roof.

Sam devised an underground system of perforated pipes resting in a bed of limestone gravel covered by 30-pound asphalt roofing felt and soil.

The pipes zig through his back yard in Forest Hills, watering the banana trees, pineapples and hibiscus from underneath. He hasn't used a hose on them since he and his wife, Sara, and two sons installed the system more than 10 years ago.

Sam's idea became Patent No. 7,661,904 B2 three years ago this month.

"I've never had a patent before," he says.

He was 94 years old at the time.

Now 97, he wants to see his Water Conservation and Distribution System get put to use. He'd like to work with Hillsborough County on a permitting procedure for it and convince cities to get behind it. He's intrigued by its possibilities for developing countries.

Because it doesn't just conserve water.

"It helps control mosquitoes," he says. "In the past five, six years, people have died from West Nile virus. What we need to do is make it impossible for mosquitoes to build their nests."

Sam's system is green and effective, says Edward Dutkiewicz, the Dade City patent attorney who shepherded it through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"He found a very simple solution to a big problem," Edward says. "Every time you build a house with a roof, you remove that much area for percolation. In cities, the problem is runoff. He's injecting the runoff into the ground. It's just like a septic tank system, but it's not sewage — it's clean water from the roof."

Edward, who has been specializing in patents for 10 years, is pretty sure Sam is his oldest inventor. But that fact doesn't surprise him. Edward's own dad is still chopping wood, at 95, on the family farm up North.

"If Sam were 40 years younger, he could start a business with this," Edward says. "He has the enthusiasm."

To get a patent, an idea has to be novel, not obvious and, preferably, useful, Edward says. He tells prospective clients it's probably not worth going to the expense of patenting their invention if they wouldn't buy one for themselves.

Sam clearly doesn't fall into that group. His wife, Sara, says her garden loves its underground irrigation.

"The plants grow faster where the pipes run," she says. "I cut off some pineapple tops and planted them and they're all huge now."

Downside? "The weeds grow, too."

Sam's a devout Packers fan whose garden is decorated with decommissioned teapots. "I burn 'em up," he says. "They go out in the garden because they hold water, so they could be useful."

There's also a concrete slab with a heart etched with a fingertip. It encircles three words: "Sara and Sam."

He's the salt of the earth, says Edward.

And he worries about our future. But he's also patient. It took time to patent his invention and he expects it will take more to share it the way he wants. That's okay.

"I'm old enough that I can take all the time I want."

Do you know your trees?

In the Diggin' Florida Dirt column that published Jan. 25, I mentioned that the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation sends out tree surveys to members. I'd seen a copy of Florida's questionnaire, distributed last year, and I was curious about the results.

Spokesman Sean Barry said they're not published — they're a tool to gauge interest in joining the foundation. But they are tallied, and last week he sent me the results for the questions I'd asked about.

Of the 3,648 Floridians who responded, here's what they said:

• 87.9 percent answered "yes" to the question: Have you ever planted a tree?

• 59.8 percent can identify "almost all" of the trees near their home.

• Only 34.4 percent agree that the cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) is an appropriate choice for our state tree.

That last one I find especially interesting. No offense to the cabbage palm, which is already under assault from the deadly Texas Phoenix Palm Decline, but — it's not a tree!

Palms are monocots, in the same family as corn, grass and bamboo. Having one as our state tree bothers me in the same way a misspelled word does.

What would you choose for our state tree?

Reach Penny Carnathan at pcarnathan49@gmail.com. Follow her blog at digginfladirt.com or join the gardening chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt. On Twitter, she's @DigginPenny.

>> if you go

Plant sales

St. Patrick Catholic Church puts on its annual thrift and plant sale, with refreshments also provided, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 8 to 4 Saturday at 4518 S Manhattan Ave. Vendor prices vary. Call (813) 839-5337.

The Riverview Garden Club will hold its annual plant and rummage sale from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Riverview Civic Center, 11020 Park Drive. Plants from nurseries will be half-price. Cash only. Free entrance and parking. Bring bags and containers to carry plants home. The sale is the club's main scholarship fundraiser. For information, call (813) 727-6567.

The Tampa African Violet Society will hold its 37th annual AVSA judged show and sale, "Jewels of Mother Nature," Feb. 22 and 23 at 100 S Mulrennan Road, Valrico. Plants and plant supplies will be available for purchase. On Feb. 22, sales will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the show from noon to 5 p.m. On Feb. 23, the show and sales will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission and parking are free.

Gardener, 97, patents irrigation system plants love, mosquitoes don't 02/07/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 7:18pm]

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