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Archive for the ‘Charlene Burgi’ Category

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.

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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!

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by Charlene Burgi

Choosing low-water-use perennials can be overwhelming since there are so many species to consider, not to mention the number of varieties within each species. It also doesn’t help that every spring catalog and garden website is touting countless beautiful low-water-using perennials that are “must haves” in the garden this year. Poring over each page of color, I search for tolerance factors such as deer and rabbit resistance, sun exposure, cold hardiness, etc.

There are three plants in the investigation that deserve mentioning. One is penstemon, also known as beardtongue. Several penstemon species are native to the west and require very little water after the first year in the ground. They seem to tolerate extremely harsh conditions, with the exception of poor-draining soil. The blossoms come in a wide range of colors, and given there are over 250 species, plants grow to various heights from groundcovers up to four feet tall. An added bonus is their blossoms attract hummingbirds and are supposed to be resistant to deer browsing. A word of caution here: More than once I have seen deer sample the goods on this plant.

Salvia May Night

Salvia ‘May Night’

Another one of my favorite low-water-using, sun-loving perennials is salvia, otherwise called sage. In the book The Country Diary of Garden Lore, by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer, I laughed as I read, “when sage grows vigorously in the garden, the wife rules the house”! On a serious note, the plant offers multitudes of ailment remedies in addition to the flower’s spectacular long-blooming season. Sage comes in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and tolerances. There are over 900 species in this mint family and the list of known species grows larger each year. Birds and bees appreciate their presence in the garden; however, some varieties are more susceptible to aphids and white fly, so make certain they are planted with adequate air circulation. When attempting to identify sage, touch the stem of the plant— it is always square!

Helleborus

Helleborus

Lastly, helleborus, or Lenten rose, is a dream plant for dry shade gardens. It blooms during the winter and spring when the garden tends to lay dormant. The colors of the cup-shaped flowers are subtle shades ranging from the palest of green to pink or purple. Deer and rabbits ignore its existence. Like the above-mentioned perennials, these plants thrive in fast-draining soil and require little water once established.

Perennials are a great way to bring color into your garden. Experiment with the wide varieties that are available. Choose those that are native to the West Coast. I mentioned three, but how can we overlook yarrow, hummingbird mint, and poppies? And the list goes on! If you are looking for color, cut flowers, or plants to fill in bare spots, give these perennials a whirl!

Join Us for Earth Day Marin Festival April 6

MMWD is pleased to be a major sponsor and partner of the Earth Day Marin 2014 Festival on Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Redwood High School in Larkspur. Join us for this fun, free, family-friendly event and day of action on sustainability solutions addressing drought, climate change, and other environmental concerns. Enjoy music, hands-on activities, inspiring speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, organic food, and more! We’ll be giving away stainless steel water bottles to the first 500 people who take action at the event to reduce their water use. For complete festival details, visit earthdaymarin.org.

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by Charlene Burgi

It seems that the phrase “March Madness” is heard throughout the mass media but never in regard to gardening!

To me, March Madness in the garden represents the desire to do something that isn’t quite right just for the sake of getting it done. It is the madness of taking shortcuts that lead to potential long-run problems.

These shortcuts find their way into the scheme of things primarily during the month of March, since this is the month many of us tend to emerge from hibernation. For instance, earlier this month I was going through the stacks of seeds collected over the years. I noticed one seed packet dated back to 2007. (If anyone hosts a show called “Seed Hoarders,” I would be a great candidate.) I had an empty seed flat and thought I had nothing to lose but to scatter the seeds in the planting mix. I didn’t label the flat thinking the seeds were too old to germinate. Was I wrong! I have a bumper crop of something coming up but now fail to remember what I planted! These little mystery plants will keep me guessing for some time; I don‘t know if they are shade- or sun-lovers, vegetable or flower, or even what hydrozone to plant them in. What I do know is this plant has a very long shelf life and I need to make labels instead of trusting my memory!

Fix a Leak Week

What better time to check for irrigation and other leaks?

Shortcuts also cost more money and time than if the job is done correctly in the first place. And truthfully, some garden chores are far more exciting than others. Those dreaded chores often result in neglect. One area frequently overlooked is our irrigation systems. Before we do anything, we need to turn on the irrigation system to check for leaks, breaks, popped emitters, misdirected nozzles, etc. (National Fix-a-Leak Week is a good time to do this.) Our instinct is to think it worked fine last year. We convince ourselves it is okay to postpone that check until after we plant, yet this key step is often forgotten. Uninspected irrigation components lose water to sidewalks, streets, or the neighbor’s yard. Water may pool around the base of the spray head due to bad seals around the sprinkler. Controllers may have lost connection with the valves and fail to turn on the system. Worse yet, drip systems could resemble fountains in Rome as the water arches far above the intended planting area. This aquatic event is missed entirely as we program the irrigation system to go on while we are still slumbering peacefully.

There is another irrigation shortcut that can cause trouble. A plant is innocently added on to an existing hydrozone station. The hydraulics to this station could already be straining to give ample coverage to the existing plantings, but why not just add on one more head to water this new plant along with the others? After all, the plants have the same exposure and water needs. But is there enough water available on that station? A well-designed irrigation system considers the friction loss of water in the pipe, the water pressure available, and the gallons of water required to water the area. The person designing the system researches the number and type of sprinklers best suited for that station. One sprinkler added after-the-fact to that design could leave the coverage lacking. A few hot days this summer will reveal the deadly results of a moment’s madness in March.

During an irrigation system check, one can experience another moment of madness when discovering a missing sprinkler head. The tendency is to grab whatever nozzle might be available. The outcome is seen when a sprinkler nozzle should reach six feet for head-to-head coverage, yet someone uses a spray head that reaches 15 feet. Your neighbor may thank you for watering his plants if the nozzle isn’t corrected! Or, the only sprinkler type available at the moment might be an impact head added to a system using spray heads or rotors. Taking this shortcut—instead of taking the time to run down to the local irrigation supply house—can end up flooding one area of your garden while leaving the other area parched. The golden rule here is do not mix and match your irrigation types on one station. Use the same type of nozzles throughout the system. Even spray heads from different companies will not match as they can emit various gallons per minute.

Yes, March Madness here in Lassen comes with the desire to plant my vegetable garden when the temperatures are still dropping into the teens at night. Enjoy the long growing season in Marin—just be wary of the shortcuts.

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by Charlene Burgi

Those are fighting words in some circles, but this kind of thievery, while dealt with using an iron hand, was for the good of the garden. I walked into the greenhouse this afternoon to check on the condition of the newly sprouted seedlings of beets, chard, peas, cauliflower, and lettuce after yesterday’s snowfall and last night’s temperatures dropping into the low 20s. Everyone looked snug and secure while basking in the reflected heat pouring in through the triple wall polycarbonate windows.

It was then that I also noticed the water thieves. No, it wasn’t that someone hooked up their garden hose to our faucet. Nor was someone taking water illegally from the stream allocated for our designated water rights. It was weeds cropping up in the little garden bed with my seedlings inside the greenhouse.

Weed seedling roots

Oh, those roots

Weeds are water robbers! The water you supply to your plants is easily consumed by those pesky unwanted intruders. Their roots are right down there with your seedlings’ sucking up just as much water as, if not more than, your prize tomato or basil babies.

I believe that part of successful weed eradication is to catch the culprits while they are young. The dilemma is how to extract them without disturbing the little treasures growing in the same space. I found this task to be a challenge as gently pulling on the weed often lifted the seedling as well since their root systems are often intertwined.

What to do? I sprinkled water on the loamy bed, and then with one hand tenderly placed my fingertips on the soil around the base of the seedling, while gently tugging the unwanted weed with my other hand. Tedious—yes, rewarding—absolutely.

Parsley and beet seedlings

Parsley volunteers in the beets

This brings up another issue. In the past, I have been asked to define a “weed.” I also remember being shocked years ago to hear that any plant growing in an unwanted space in the garden is classified as a weed! Those words tug at the part of me that doesn’t like to waste anything. After all, there are volunteer parsley seeds that germinated in the same bed where the beets are now growing. Poppies are emerging through the heavily mulched flower garden and lining the path. They are weeds perhaps by others’ standards, but welcomed to grace the walkways here as I know these poppies survive and bloom without additional water.

Do you have water thieves lurking about your garden? The rains finally came, followed by the sun, and that is the perfect formula for seeds to germinate whether you want the seedlings or not! Catch the unwanted water-consumers while they are little. Your plants will thank you later!

Earth Day Marin Festival April 6

Join us for a fun, free, family-friendly community celebration at Redwood High School on Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., to discover ways to save water and other earth-friendly habits. Enjoy music, hands-on activities, inspiring speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, organic food, and much more! For more information visit earthdaymarin.org.

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by Charlene Burgi

The Winter Olympics and the Academy Awards are behind us now. The gold, silver, and bronze medals were doled out to the highest scoring athletes in their fields. And the Oscars were distributed to the best actors, actresses, and others in the movie industry for their work of excellence. After those events were over, celebrations occurred. Good works, no matter what type, deserve a celebration after the fact, considering the tension, dedication, passion, determination, and grit required to achieve those goals.

consumption levels graph

Thanks to your conservation efforts water usage this past week was down 24% over the same week last year. Keep up the good work!

Similarly, all of us who are working at water conservation stepped closer to the podium or stage when MMWD’s Board of Directors asked us to voluntarily save water. It amazes me that those of you conserving naturally on a daily basis and under normal circumstances dug even deeper to save more water during a critical time.

Those athletes and actors didn’t stop when their goal was in sight. Practice sessions, rehearsals, and continual striving were part of their daily lives. We, too, are still striving to reach our goal by conserving water. The goal is to ensure a comfortable supply of water in our reservoirs come April 1. Mother Nature is helping us with these late but heavy rainfalls. We can continue working toward keeping the water in the reservoirs, but take time also to applaud and reward ourselves for our efforts so far.

How might we reward ourselves? My daughter Lynette mentioned that she has an itch to get into the garden. Most of us who love nature share that itch after a long winter. But because we are still focused on conservation, we are resisting the temptation to buy or plant more plants that require irrigation. If you share this feeling, perhaps the treat for your conservation effort is to plant a few bulbs.

Neglected bulbs keep coming up

Neglected bulbs keep coming up

Bulbs require little, if any, care, but their rewards are great. Despite the extreme dryness we have experienced, the lack of rain didn’t stop the fall-planted daffodils from coming up with a show of color. Any person passing by a clump of freesias could still take pleasure in their intoxicating fragrance. The harbinger of spring known as crocus popped up to remind us of the goodness that comes from the earth when all else seemed threatened by a lack of water.

Daffodils after the rain

Daffodils after the rain

While it is too late for planting spring bulbs, summer blooming bulbs are available at your local nurseries right now. Lilies, gladiolas, and iris are just a few plants that provide lots of color with minimal care. As seen on this web video, it takes little effort on your part to succeed when planting bulbs. Your itch to plant something in the garden will be satisfied, and the awards for your achievements will be found blooming in the garden this summer. The biggest reason for celebration will be in the near future. It won’t come with the crossing of a finish line or the opening of a golden envelope, but from the knowledge that you did your best when asked to perform. The gold prize will be found in our reservoirs.

Keep up the great work.

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by Charlene Burgi

covered rain barrelAll reports are that you’re been enjoying some good rain in Marin! Are you considering ways to start catching some of this precious stuff to use during the dry times? Do you have a plan?

You might ask what’s to plan except to run down to the local hardware store, pick up a barrel or two, and direct your downspouts into the open barrels. Or the plan may entail setting out buckets, pots, and pans around the garden with the thought of capturing any raindrops that happen to fall into them.

Several questions come to mind when thinking about these types of plans. Did you calculate the amount of water that will be collected from the roof going into the barrels? What happens to the overflow? Will the excess water erode the area around the barrel, or is it directed away to protect your foundation and prevent flooding? What becomes of the harvested water until it is used? Will the uncovered barrels, buckets, pots, and pans become a breeding ground for mosquitoes or see critters falling in with no way out? So many questions!

Harvesting rainwater comes with a responsibility that is often overlooked. The concern isn’t about taking advantage of falling rain for conservation purposes, but doing it in a way that considers the health and welfare of your property and our environment. If you don’t have a plan yet but would like to collect rainwater, let’s outline a plan that is a win-win for all concerned.

Let’s do the easy step first. If the collection containers are not covered, move the water into an enclosed container immediately. Many commercial barrels are sold with a water faucet already attached for easy hose or drip assembly. Next, consider what you are going to do with the collected water. Rain barrels are a good fit for watering a few plants under the eaves of your house during the winter. However, watering the entire garden will require a much larger vessel in the form of a tank or multiple connected rainwater catchment containers or bladders—which leads me to the next step.

Calculate the amount of rain runoff from your roof so you can anticipate what size tank/container to purchase. Measure the square footage of the portion of the roof that directs water to the downspout(s) you are using for collection (length x width = square feet). Now, multiply the square footage by the number of inches of rainfall, then multiply that times a conversion factor of 0.623. For example, let’s assume the roof collection area is 1,000 square feet and that during the big storm earlier this month your neighborhood received 10 inches of rain. The calculations would look like this:

1,000 x 10 x 0.623 = 6,230 gallons of water

If you only have two rain barrels collecting a total of 90 gallons of water, where, might I ask, does that remaining 6,140 gallons go? The plan must include directing excess water into rain gardens or bioswales to soak it up, spread it out, and sink it into the richly prepared soil.

rainwater harvesting tank

At the Marin Art & Garden Center, runoff from a shed roof collects in a 2,500-galllon tank.

If you like working out these problems, calculate the gallons of rainfall you can collect for the year based on the above formula using your average yearly rainfall. Now calculate the water needs of the plants in your garden for the year based on the average evapotranspiration rate for your area. (Hint: WUCOLS can help with water needs of your plants and CIMIS can help with yearly ET averages.) Is your water storage big enough to support your garden for the year? How about a month? And where on your property would you install a container able to store all that water?

I hope this exercise has been fun as well as informative. Meanwhile, enjoy the pitter patter of raindrops! I know I will!

Go Green with Graywater

The County of Marin is hosting a workshop Saturday, March 15, to teach the community about graywater reuse and installing laundry-to-landscape systems. The workshop is open to all and will be 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at San Rafael Corporate Center, 740 Lindaro Street in San Rafael. Get the complete details here.

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by Charlene Burgi

Golden retriever pups in the snow

Snowy paws: The pups at 11 months old

Alarm clocks are no longer needed in our home since the pups arrived on the scene. Every morning between 5:30 and 6:30, four front puppy paws appear on the edge of the mattress to let Jack and I know it is time to get up.

Those paws, to my consternation, tell me more than the time. They also reveal the current weather conditions based on the mud or snow they track in as they race through the house after being outdoors. The dilemma is that Misty knows how to open the front door if it isn’t locked, so unwelcome tell-tale (no pun intended) paw-print signs show up all over the floor.

The bad news is the carpets and tile floors are in a constant state of being shampooed or vacuumed. The good news is the pups’ imprints tell me if the soil outside is like a sponge or in need of amendments. One could almost say their paw prints in the house are sure indicators of which outdoor areas they’ve explored. Did their paws sink into the rich, healthy soil of the garden area? (Muddy prints.) Or did they explore an area in need of more amendments, where water tends to collect or run off? (Wet prints.)

Pooling water on soil

Soil in need of amendments

Indicators help us all know what to do to create living sponge-like soil in our gardens. Marin is famous for clay soils where water pools up in level areas or runs off on slopes. Runoff carries away nutrients that plants need, erodes what little topsoil may exist, and will shorten the life of asphalt. Clay also compacts easily, trapping rich nutrients within and requiring us to buy fertilizer to feed our plants.

In last week’s workshop, Brad Lancaster mentioned various ways to create living sponges in the garden and avoid funneling precious rainfall straight to the bay. First, direct water to your plants—or as he says, “plant the rain.” This is done by grading the soil toward your plants, creating conduits to guide water to where it can soak into richly fed earth. Second, amend and mulch. Leave your clippings around the base of your plants unless the material is diseased. This natural mulch will break down and add nutrients back into the soil. The more leaf-drop and amendments left to decompose, the more sponge-like the soil will be. Compost made from kitchen scraps and added to the garden will also provide healthy and diverse life while breaking down clay soil conditions. In turn, the soil absorbs more water. This synergic process reminds me of a childhood song called “Dem Bones” that describes how our bones are all connected to make a whole!

Are you thinking of harvesting rainwater? Soaking up the rain with your soil is the first and healthiest step for your garden. Take a walk. Do you see any indicators of erosion, puddles, or salt stains on hardscapes from irrigation runoff? How much water can you save by planting it back into the garden instead of into storm drains? How much money can you save by using such amendments as home-grown compost or allowing the leaf litter and garden clippings to stay where they fall? How much rainwater can you save by keeping it on your property? Let your eyes be the indicators and use your ingenuity to come up with ways to turn hardpan clay into a living sponge.

For those ready to grow their rainwater harvesting and graywater expertise to the next level, there are two upcoming courses that may be of interest. Both are geared to landscape professionals. The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association presents a two-day rainwater harvesting accreditation course March 10-11 in Napa. And starting March 25 in Santa Rosa will be a free, four-session Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) Graywater Training. Please share these opportunities with others who may be interested!

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by Charlene Burgi

This past week found us all embracing the rains falling from above. A whopping 14.76 inches of rain fell at Lake Lagunitas. The 41,924 acre-feet of water stored in our lakes before the storm rose to 50,748 acre-feet after. Are we out of the woods regarding the drought? Can we return to our old ways of thinking about how we use water? No. We are in much better shape after the storm, but we can’t let the rain make us complacent. Keep up the great work you are doing. Keep focused on conservation!

It was easy to stay focused on conservation with Brad Lancaster, the guru “water stretcher” extraordinaire, speaking in the Bay Area on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning found the room packed as Brad shared his experiences and findings in such places as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and South Korea. Some of the sites he spoke of lived successfully on as little as four inches of water a year!

Brad spoke about how these countries focused on graywater use as well as capturing and storing rainwater. He talked about using plant materials that were indigenous to the region and about grading to create bioswales so water slows down, spreads out, and sinks into the soil instead of running off. He talked about creating sponges of our soils by letting clippings lay where they fall to allow for natural composting.

His lectures were so detailed it would take several blog posts to cover all the points that he discussed. Therefore, once I get home, I plan to spend several weeks exploring in more detail the topics he covered.

I must admit, being in Marin in February was a double treat. First, the rains seemed to lift everyone’s spirits. Secondly, everywhere I went, Daphne odora was in bloom. The fragrance wafting through the air intercepted me entering the bank on Fourth Street in San Rafael, walking toward the building where Brad spoke, and even visiting my daughter’s home. Daphne is the perfect plant for me. Deer don’t eat it; it thrives in the deepest shade with minimal water; it blooms at the time of year when most other plants lay dormant; and, oh, that fragrance can stop you dead in your tracks! It is a plant that thrives on neglect. Pampering it will leave you disappointed.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

There is another plant that captured my attention while in Marin. Chaenomeles, otherwise known as flowering quince, is a beautiful plant that is rarely seen in gardens anymore, yet carries many of the same favorable qualities as daphne. Deer don’t bother it; minimal water is needed to keep it looking good; and it comes in beautiful shades of red, orange, pink, coral, or white. The difference in the two plants is flowering quince is much happier in the sun and, while lacking fragrance, it will thrive in temperatures well below zero—a plant after my own heart. It didn’t take long before I was driving to the local nurseries choosing just the right plants to live in Lassen! Of course, while there, I couldn’t leave without picking up bareroot edible crops such as asparagus, seed potatoes, and onion sets.

Water HarvestingA busy week in Marin has come to a close and finds me preparing to go back home with my head filled with new ideas about how to approach rainwater harvesting and graywater use, and a burning desire to get my hands in the soil to plant new-found treasures. I can only hope our heavy rainfall at home provides workable soil that is no longer frozen!

Wishing you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day.

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by Charlene Burgi

Persian water wheel

Persian water wheel near Khajuraho, India. (Photo courtesy of Ann Vallee.)

Ann Vallee, the invaluable person behind the scenes of this blog who works in Public Information at MMWD, recently took an amazing trip to India. Knowing my interest in irrigation, she sent pictures of cattle tethered to a Persian water wheel. As they walked in circles, the cattle turned a series of gears that caused a chain of buckets to lift water up from a well. The water then poured into a system of troughs that ran out to the fields to water the crops, or it could be collected in a vessel for household use.

She also spoke of public water wells in villages where people washed clothes and dishes, bathed, and filled their pots with the precious liquid to carry home—some feat as one gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds! And what can you do with just one gallon of water? (This is a test question!)

Ann’s stories reminded me of a Greek garden I designed some years back. The family was from Greece and recalled similar public water fountains from their past life. They asked me to include a fountain in the garden as a daily reminder of the luxury they now enjoy by just turning on the tap. (The garden fountain was designed with a water-saving recirculating pump, unlike the free-flowing fountains they experienced in Greece.)

These descriptions of how people live made me think. Life in Lassen County has given me a new perspective on living conditions, but none as far removed as our friends in India or other places around the world. Things I took for granted in Marin are not as readily accessible here. I tend to think before acting now: Can I leave the lug of oranges that our dear friends shared with us in the back of the truck overnight? Or will they be solid balls of orange ice in the morning? Can I run out for an errand without carrying a heavy coat in the car? Or will I get caught by a major drop in temperature before coming home?

I am also more aware of the weather conditions. If a storm is coming in, is the generator fueled up and close by to plug into the house if the lights go out? Preparing for winter in Marin included storing a few candles and making certain there were working batteries in flashlights. The impact here is more than just losing electricity. In this valley we now call home, we are totally dependent on electricity to get water to the house—something I never worried about in Marin. Water is now stored in the garage to use conservatively until power is restored to the pump house that sits 1,100 linear feet away and 70 feet lower in elevation than the house. (Advanced test question: What is the friction loss of 1½ inch PVC pipe running 1,100 feet, and how many pounds per square inch (PSI) are lost rising 70 feet?)

Do you realize the same concerns, calculations, and need for power exist in Marin? The difference is you generally don’t need to think about it because MMWD is handling all that behind the scenes. Water must be pumped from lakes to treatment plants, from treatment plants to water storage tanks, and sometimes from storage tanks to your homes. My hat is off to the people at MMWD who assess the demands for each tank, calculating exactly how much water your neighborhood uses at any given time to assure the tanks are at the capacity needed to deliver that water to you—not to mention the engineers who calculate friction losses along miles of pipeline as well as how many pounds of pressure and gallons per minute are available per meter. The district has generators and staff ready to go at any given moment, so that even when you turn on the faucet in a power outage, you have water. It seems as easy as flipping a switch; the reality is it is a luxury taken for granted. And believe me, yours truly did just that for years!

There is someone that I mentioned last week who doesn’t take water for granted. Brad Lancaster will be in the Bay Area this coming week. Brad has taught in many Third World countries and countries that live with an ongoing shortage of water. He lives in Tuscan, Arizona—situated at the end of the tap of the Colorado River. Brad walks the walk as well as talks the talk by utilizing and maximizing available water in a fashion that would lead you to think otherwise if you saw the lush beauty surrounding his home. Come listen and learn about conservation from this man who turns soil into living sponges. Hope to see you there.

And speaking of great learning opportunities, landscape professionals may be interested in the next Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) training course starting February 25, followed by the QWEL Graywater training starting March 25. Both classes will be in Santa Rosa. See the flier for details.

As for the test questions, please share your answers below. Let’s see how creative you are with one gallon of water, and how many of the pros come up with the correct answers to friction loss and PSI loss!

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