by Paul Scott, Volunteer Watershed Ambassador

Bon Tempe and Mt. Tamalpais

Bon Tempe Lake on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

Earth Day is upon us! This is the time to ponder our relationship with our one and only planet. In this regard a major force for me has been Mt. Tamalpais, the “crown jewel” being MMWD’s watershed lands.

The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed consists of five reservoirs and primarily the north-facing slopes of the mountain that shed rainwater into them. These “lakes” have been here long enough that they are now a focal point for the diversity of flora and fauna found here. Camping, hunting, swimming, and boating are a no-no and cars have very limited access, so it’s an oasis of sorts for natural processes to occur with minimal human disruption. While the “purpose” of these lands is to provide clean drinking water, requiring wise ecological practices, we are also blessed with their biodiversity and many recreational opportunities.

The natural resources staff work out of Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters located in the hills above Fairfax and in close proximity to three of the reservoirs. Their volunteer program offers abundant opportunity for young and old, all geared toward environmental education, wise resource management, and furthering community spirit. As a volunteer and near-daily visitor to the watershed lands myself, I see folks come to visit with smiles on their faces. Many of them are “regulars” who tell me they feel the same way I do about the area—it is a place of peace and sanctuary. I’m amazed how many come from other countries, but I’m most surprised when I meet local people who had no idea all this was here.

Come develop your relationship with your watershed—for Earth Day and any day. Experience a fine example of how humans can make use of natural resources in an intelligent and sympathetic manner for everything and everyone to share.

Garden Blessings

by Charlene Burgi

Agastache after a long winter

Agastache after a long winter

This week many of us will remember and celebrate one of two ancient holidays: Passover and Easter. There are many processes found in gardening that remind me of both of these holidays and their origins. Who would guess life and beauty would be realized from the bondage of harsh living conditions, as many plants don’t begin to bloom until they are root bound? Or that it would take scarifying certain hard-coated waxy seeds to create new life? How about seeds or bulbs lying in a bed of cold, dark soil that bring the miracle of flowers, or the protection that is offered to our plants when we cover their roots with mulch?

When we garden, we have faith that the steps we take will reward us with a bounty of fruits, vegetables, or masses of colorful flowers. Sometimes our faith waivers. This winter when the temperatures in Lassen County dropped to 21 below zero, I feared the newly planted Santa Rosa plum tree would not live through that freezing snow. Imagine the joy I experienced this spring when the tree not only survived, but produced an abundance of flowers and potential fruit yet to come!

Despite our best intentions we sometimes make mistakes, but find plants are forgiving of our errors. A great example of this occurred just this past week. I was too busy to check on the greenhouse for three days in a row and too busy to notice that outdoor temperatures were rising. By the time I went into the greenhouse, I found the trapped interior heat had caused many of the potted plants to wither. Fortunately the wilted vegetables that I had planted in the ground sprung right back up with a good soaking!

Gardeners’ faith is affirmed as they experience the fruits of their labors. We recognize our decisions will bring future rewards or we wouldn’t find ourselves tilling the soil, weeding, feeding, mulching, planting, pruning, mowing, and hoeing when we could be finding other activities to entertain ourselves. Some call our drive passion or love. The rewards are too rich to walk away from the garden.

The jewels from our gardens are also enjoyed by those with whom we share our bounty—whether it be tomatoes, bouquets of flowers, or creative ideas. For example, this week a few of our readers shared some great ideas about their seed-planting strategies and the staking of tree roses. Frank suggested an idea to avoid struggling with wet toilet paper when making seed strips as I described in last week’s blog. He creates a paste of flour and water, then uses a toothpick to transport the paste onto a seed and the seed onto dry toilet paper. After allowing the paste to dry, he plants the seeded toilet paper strip at the proper depth.

In the past Nancy struggled with commercial seed starters that failed to support the weight of her bottle gourd seedlings. She happened onto large biodegradable drinking cups that are sturdy enough for starting the seedlings indoors before moving them outside. Transplant shock is eliminated since she plants the entire cup, knowing the cup will break down in the soil.

Emerging peonies

Emerging peonies

Scott suggested staking tall plants by triangulating three tall concrete form stakes and connecting the stakes together using copper fittings and copper pipe—a very classy construction that I might use for the peonies that spring is resurrecting from their winter dormancy right now.

Now is a time of new beginnings in the garden. Enjoy the blessings this season brings and have a very special weekend.

by Craig Lauridsen

I recently installed a hot water recirculating system at my home. I did this to save water and time. There are a couple different types of these systems available but I will focus on the one that I used. Here’s how it works: A small pump is installed on top of the water heater and a thermal bypass valve is installed under the sink that’s furthest from the water heater. That’s it!

The average household wastes thousands of gallons of water per year waiting for hot water. It used to take about 2 minutes and 15 seconds before my shower was hot enough to get in, now it takes 25 seconds. This is an 80% reduction in time and water (about 3 gallons per shower based on my 1.8 GPM showerhead). I experienced similar savings at the bathroom faucet. Between the shower and faucet I calculated an annual water savings of about 2,000 gallons for two adults. I will personally save over 10 hours per year not waiting for hot water—maybe I’ll use that time to think of other ways I can save water!

Overall, I am very happy with my hot water recirculating system. If you are considering installing one of your own, here are a few things to consider:

  • Your energy use will go up slightly because you’re heating the same water twice. These recirculating systems move hot water in the pipes (that has already been heated once) back to the water heater to be heated again. If you don’t want to increase your energy usage and you’re willing to wait for hot water, you can forgo the recirculating system and “shower with a bucket.” The water you capture in the bucket can be used to flush toilets or water plants.
  • Most of these pumps have a timer that you set for certain times of the day (when you’re most likely to shower, wash your face, etc.). If you do these activities when the pump is off then you’ll have to wait for hot water (just like you used to).
  • Most of these systems use your cold water pipes as a return line back to the water heater. This means that when the pump is running you’ll get several seconds of warm water when you turn on the cold handle. This also means that you are putting water that has passed through the water heater into your cold pipes. Some research has shown that you shouldn’t drink water that has passed through the water heater because it can contain higher concentrations of lead. I filter my drinking water so I’m not too concerned about this.
  • To maximize efficiency you should consider insulating all of your hot water pipes.
  • Some recirculating systems won’t work with tankless water heaters. So keep this in mind if you have, or plan on installing, a tankless water heater.

For detailed research about recirculating systems, check out this helpful webpage from the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

hot water recirculating system

by Andrea Williams

This is installment three of a twelve-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.

Last month I talked about California’s state grass, purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra, formerly Nassella pulchra). This month, California’s state rock, serpentinite (although we usually just call it serpentine since it’s made up of serpentine minerals), takes center stage. California was actually the first state to designate an official rock, but serpentine is special and, like our Mediterranean climate, helped give rise to plants found nowhere else in the world.

barbed goat grass

The spikelets of barbed goatgrass look a little like goat heads, although that’s not where the name comes from.

Because of the makeup of serpentine rock, and its slow weathering, serpentine soils are thin, poor, and high in heavy metals. The mineral balance is quite different from what most plants can tolerate, so many plants found on serpentine are endemics: they’re only found on this soil type. Others can grow on serpentine and non-serpentine soils, but may be stunted or appear different when living in the strange soil.

Many weeds take advantage of disturbance and can quickly use resources, outcompeting other plants. But serpentine’s qualities make it naturally resistant to invasion, with a few notable exceptions. That brings us to this month’s grass: barbed goatgrass (Aegilops triuncialis). Originally from serpentine soils in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe/Western Asia, barbed goatgrass can thrive in our soils and climate. Not only does it do well on serpentine, the high silica content of the litter it produces is difficult to break down, further altering the soil and making it even harder for other plants to grow! Goatgrass also has a built-in seed stashing strategy: Each spikelet generally has two seeds—one germinates the first year, and the other lays dormant for a year—so even if you get all the plants in a year, the seedbank of this annual has a surprise waiting for you the next.

habitat restoration site

On May 17, help pull invasive barbed goatgrass in this beautiful spot.

Nearly half of our rare plants are found on serpentine soils, which makes these areas so important to protect. You have an opportunity on May 17 to help remove invasive barbed goatgrass from serpentine soils on Mt. Tamalpais, in the Azalea Hill/Pine Mountain area. We’ve been pulling goatgrass from this site for many years, and stemming the tide of invasion. Nine different rare plants call this spot home, and jackrabbits and kites are often seen as well—not to mention our state flower, state bird, and state rock!


Garden Ideas

by Charlene Burgi

I woke up this morning to the calls of sandhill cranes flying up and down the creek and dominating the sweet chirps of various other birds in the area. As loud as these magnificent birds are, their calls seem to chant the arrival of spring. And true to form, they showed up just as temperatures worked their way up the thermostat.

It seems my energy level is also matching the rise in temperature. The outdoors beckons me to get moving on starting seeds, transplanting and potting up perennials and bareroot stock. Instead of talking about the weather, conversations with friends now revolve around new garden ideas, what we plan to do differently this year, and what lessons we learned from past failures.

This thread of conversation worked its way into an email with an old grammar school friend who moved to Washington years ago. Her mother was an avid gardener, and it was always a delight to see her new flowers catching the attention of people passing by. It is no wonder my friend fell into the same path of gardening, nor is it any surprise that our conversation would turn toward what was happening in our gardens right now!

how to make toilet paper seed strips

1. Seed tape ingredients 2. Cutting the toilet paper 3. Tiny seed placement 4. Seeds secured in the folds 5. Seed strip ready for light covering of amended soil

Charlene (yes, we share the same name) told me of something new she is trying for the first time. It is such a great idea that I asked if I could share it with you! The seed and plant catalogs tout expensive seed strips for managing the chore of planting seeds. The seeds are often so tiny that we end up with clusters of germinated seed and have to pluck the majority out of the bed to maximize the growth of stronger seedlings.

Charlene came up with a brilliant solution. She tore off a three-foot strip of toilet paper and cut the paper down the center leaving her with two three-foot sections. She applied a light mist of water to the strip of paper and carefully set the seeds down the center with the proper spacing. Once the seeds were in place, she folded the edges over the seeds and moistened with another light mist of water. The seed strips could then be moved onto the prepared ground and lightly covered with soil.

I love this idea and can’t wait to try it! Plus, it goes hand in hand with my tip to use empty toilet paper rolls for starting seedlings indoors. Once transplanted outdoors, these cardboard containers biodegrade in the ground as the plant grows. It almost makes me want to secure stock in toilet paper if this trend catches on!

A word of caution with the good weather: Before you set your controller to begin irrigating on a regular basis, please push back the bark and dig down three or four inches. My guess is the soil is still very wet and the plants may not need your assistance right now. If your mulch is getting thin, apply a new layer. It will not only freshen up the garden, but curtail evaporation as well as delay the need to irrigate.

Do you have a clever gardening tip? Are you willing to share with others? Please let us know so we can all capitalize upon your learning process and successes.

April Showers

by Charlene Burgi

Isn’t it wonderful! April showers continue to fill our reservoirs and replenish our groundwater. These rains work their way from the saturated earth into the creeks and drainages that comprise our watersheds. The runoff tumbles over anything in its path to reach the reservoirs that sustain all of us, our gardens, and a wealth of wildlife, too.

April is a great month! It is a time to see fruit trees blooming or watch the transformation from blossom to fruit beginning. Spring bulbs continue to dazzle us with their show of pastel colors, and the green signs of summer bulbs are slowly poking their way through the waterlogged mulch. Wildflowers are springing up all over the hills as if to say they, too, are celebrating the good earth.

What a time to celebrate this great planet. Spring is a rebirth after a long winter. Everything is anew! It is the time to appreciate our surroundings, a time to raise our awareness about how we can contribute to the health of our environment. We live in a beautiful place and we are often too busy to stop and observe the glory found right outside our doors.

It is not surprising that this is the month that we celebrate the Earth! Can I challenge you? What can you do to celebrate Earth Day? Is this the time that you can feed the soil with amendments? Start a compost pile? Farm red wiggly worms to turn kitchen scraps into amazing fertilizer? Can you find other means of killing unwanted weeds in the garden without resorting to harsh chemicals? Sheet mulch? How about planning a walk up to the reservoirs to view wildflowers or wildlife?

Earth Day Marin 2014For a more major celebration, drop in at the annual Earth Day Marin Festival this Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Redwood High School in Larkspur to see some amazing programs and international entertainment. Enjoy music, speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, film screenings, organic food, and so much more. MMWD will have lots of information, hands-on activities, and giveaways to help you save water and learn more about where your water comes from. And be sure to join MMWD for a fun and inspiring “water rally” at 2 p.m. at the main stage. For complete details about the festival, check out the website: earthdaymarin.org. There is something for everyone!

Speaking of websites, I confess to holding out on the vegetable gardener reading this blog. It goes without saying that long, cold winter days in Lassen find hours of my retired life on the computer seeking out the newest coneflower, the latest method for eradicating gophers, or the tastiest tomato to grow this season. It was during such perusing that I discovered a website that costs nothing to join and contains oodles of information, planners, journals, and interactive design pages for your vegetable garden. The site provides a weekly “to-do” list so you’ll know exactly when to plant indoors, move seedlings outdoors, etc. You can find this treasured website at smartgardener.com. Try it and let me know what you think!

In closing, a friend sent an email with beautiful pictures accompanied by quotes. I couldn’t help but laugh at this quote as it tied in perfectly with this week’s blog: “Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year!” How can we beat that!

Have a great weekend and let me know your experience at the Earth Day Marin Festival!

MMWD's drinking water on request table tent

MMWD’s free “drinking water upon request” table tent

MMWD is offering free table tents to local restaurants to help them spread the word to their customers about conserving water.

Under the district’s water conservation code, restaurants may serve drinking water only upon request. In response to the drought, we are reaching out to restaurants to remind them about the requirement, which was adopted by MMWD’s Board of Directors in December 2009. The table tents are designed to make it easy for restaurants to educate their customers about the requirement and to save water and money.

When you think of the number of people who dine out in Marin, the number of water glasses that go untouched, and the water needed to wash all those glasses, the savings really add up.

So far this year, MMWD has given away about 2,000 table tents to local restaurants. The table tents are available free of charge to businesses within the district while supplies last. To order, email MMWD’s Water Conservation Department or call 945-1520.

MMWD also has launched a new social media campaign to thank local restaurants who are saving water by serving drinking water upon request. Does your favorite restaurant serve drinking water on request? Show us! Send a photo to MMWD’s Public Information Department. We will add it to our photo album, credit you, share the photo on Facebook and Twitter, and “tag” the restaurant to let them know their conservation efforts are making a difference.


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