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Standard Time

by Charlene Burgi

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus

A friend noted that it is time to turn our clocks back an hour before retiring this Saturday night. The message shouldn’t have been a surprise, nor was it a trick or treat! Fall is here. The evenings are much cooler, and the leaves of the trees and shrubs are showing their true colors of oranges, reds, and yellows. It seems like it was just yesterday that the Euonymus alatus in the backyard was green, yet it lost its chlorophyll overnight and is now displaying an amazing shade of scarlet red. The recent winds picked up the golden leaves of the Cladrastis kentukea (yellowwood tree) and sprinkled them around the garden. Flocks of robins have also returned to visit before moving further south.

Turning back the clocks signifies shorter daylight hours and more indoor time for making breads and homemade soups from the bounty of our gardens. However, the annual ritual also forced my thoughts back to the list of things that first need attention outdoors. Jack has already been busy rigging up the horse and donkey water troughs to thermostatic heaters. Hoses are already drained and detached from outdoor water sources, and emergency generators and lighting are ready to go as needed. Tools are sharpened for the task of pruning this winter.

But what about the garden details? Gladiola and dahlia corms as well as begonia tubers need to be lifted from the soil and stored in a dry environment until spring. The greenhouse could do with a major clean-up before we add winter crops. Lingering summer veggies are waiting to be pulled and added to the compost pile. And the compost pile could be covered with an old carpet to retain the heat. Mountains of stored manure still lie in wait to be spread out on the future garden area set up for next year. Leaves around the roses and fruit trees require raking to eliminate any fungus-carrying pathogen. The well-rotted compost could be utilized in the cold frames, not to mention that the controllers need to be reset along with the balance of clocks in the house.

Insulated pipe

Insulated pipe

We had our first freeze in Lassen this past week. It reminded me that exposed outdoor water pipes also need to be wrapped with pipe insulation for potential freezing temperatures in Marin. How well do I remember trying to leave for work in the wee hours and attempting to use the garden hose to wash off the frozen dew from my windshield, only to find the water in the hose frozen! Instead of water, the hose would spew out cylinders of ice!

The fall preparations can also include some fun planting. Garlic can go into the ground now, along with spring-blooming bulbs. Raspberry canes can also get established. And this is the perfect time to check out trees at the nursery to see their display of fall color and choose one to tuck into that perfect spot in the garden. As long as you are visiting the nursery, check out various varieties of holly to add the color of berries to the winter garden.

Who would have thought that the mere mention of turning the hour hand back would create such a long “honey-do” list!

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by Charlene Burgi

Let’s face it—I love all kinds of deals. When repurposing became the rage, I was already there. Bay-Friendly gardening principles encourage us to recycle, and I am at the forefront cheering on other followers. Pinterest.org has my full attention for other ideas on repurposing. Turning an old pallet into a planter for growing lettuce is exciting news. Bent, galvanized nails are saved to place around the base of hydrangeas to get them to turn blue. And a broken clay pot makes for great drainage material for plants that don’t like their roots sitting in water.

Future henhouse?

Future henhouse?

At times, Jack has to put his foot down to this quirk of mine. For example, I wanted to convert an old antiquated camping trailer into a henhouse. Visually, the vintage RV would be adorable—in my eyes. The trailer would be insulated and with plenty of room for chickens to move about. Plus it would be impossible for predators to enter. Additionally, no lumber would be needed to construct a new henhouse.

My guess is thriftiness is in my DNA. My mother was great at making ends meet. She could stretch a dollar to the maximum and wouldn’t hesitate to walk a mile to get the best price for an onion. Perhaps growing up during the Great Depression gave Mom a sense of saving and making the most of a situation. I will never forget her thinking she could save money by replacing the worn ticking on our feather pillows. I came home from school to a house filled with feathers floating into every nook and cranny. Years later we would still come across an escaped down feather from that money-saving adventure. Despite the mess made, years later it gave us all a chuckle when we considered the hours she spent repurposing those feathers.

Mom also saved water before it came into vogue. In need of a new washing machine, she was disappointed to learn that sud-saver washing machines were no longer available. Her answer to that problem was to insert a plug into the laundry room sink and bucket water back into the washing machine—especially during the 1970s drought. She proudly shared her water-saving ideas with the Marin Independent Journal during that time, making the front page and collecting the grand prize for the best submitted ideas.

She would also take advantage of rebates that came along over the years from the Marin Municipal Water District. She replaced her high-water-using toilets with new HETs, placed bark around her garden, and exchanged her sprinkler nozzles for MPR spray nozzles, knowing those rebates would save water as well as reduce the dollar figure on her water bill.

MMWD Rebates: Get Paid to SaveMom has since passed on, but her values are well embedded in this brain. When I heard of MMWD’s newest rebate program, which starts this Saturday, October 25, I wondered how she might take advantage of the savings. She didn’t have a pool for the pool cover, but knowing her, a laundry-to-landscape system would be a great substitute for the loss of her sud-saver washing machine. Rain barrels would also be a consideration since she would always place containers under her downspout to collect rainwater. Organic mulch was refreshed in her garden every year. Yes, Mom would take advantage of these deals. How about you?

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Dependency

by Charlene Burgi

High winds tore at the vegetation in Lassen and Modoc counties this past Tuesday. Clouds of dirt and dust were so thick you couldn’t see beyond them. Trees swayed over and were pushed to their limits. Then it happened. Somewhere along the miles of power lines coming through town and countryside, a tree gave way to the gusting winds and we lost our electricity. But I soon discovered it was more of a loss than that.

I was on the computer when the power went down. Our phones went dead as our phone system requires electricity. My cell phone was also dead from lack of use. My car was securely parked in the garage where the walls are filled with 12 inches of concrete to protect us from winter cold. No cell service could penetrate within even if I plugged the phone into the car jack; however, charging the cell phone in the car was an option.

heavy duty flashlight

Super light source

While the phone charged, the thought of losing all means of communication didn’t concern me. I moved on to pending projects not requiring electricity or communication. While working, I made mental notes of other options for freeing myself of electrical dependency in an emergency. One was to get the generator moved back into the garage and review the process of how it works. Jack was out of town, and I knew I couldn’t manage carting the generator from his shop to the house by myself, so that would have to wait.

Several hours later, and a few projects completed, our power was restored. However, I failed to check the access to the internet until the following night. No connection. With it being late, morning sounded like a better time for problem-solving. Equipped with positive thoughts and little knowledge, I tackled the job by disconnecting and reconnecting various cords but to no avail. The computer wouldn’t connect to the internet. Our internet representative made attempts over the phone to walk me through various exercises but with the same outcome I experienced. We came to the conclusion that my modem died in the storm. It would be late the next day before they could send someone out.

My mind reeled as I considered the options I had for getting the blog to you this week. Our closest neighbor doesn’t own a computer. However our new neighbors, living several miles away, are off grid and totally dependent on solar power, and they have internet service. Thanks to them, the blog would go through!

Dependency. This power outage made me realize how dependent we are on electricity. Jack and I are dependent on electricity to move water from the well to the house and horse troughs. We need electricity to water our garden, wash dishes and clothes, draw water for bathing, brush our teeth, and the list goes on.

portable generator

MMWD’s portable generators help keep water flowing in a power outage.

Losing electricity made me think of the power Marin Municipal Water District uses to move water to your homes also. Most people don’t realize that MMWD is one of Marin’s largest power consumers! I recalled the time many years ago that MMWD lost power and we used generators to keep emergency lighting on in our building. The district had a plan in place to continue providing reliable service to customers, so your water was never interrupted.

This week’s event gave me pause for thought and prompted me to come up with some questions for you:

  • Do you have an emergency preparedness plan? (If not, readymarin.org is a great resource.)
  • If you lost power, what would you sacrifice? What domino effect would it have on your life?
  • How dependent are you on your utilities? Could you live comfortably until all was restored?
  • Have you stored an emergency supply of water?
  • Can you use a barbecue to cook?
  • Are back-up batteries charged or candles at the ready?
  • Do you have a generator? And if so, do you have it filled with fuel and know how to use it?
  • Or, like our friends, would you be unaffected by the loss of power thanks to progressive thinking in using solar energy and storing water in a tank for such emergencies?

I hope I have convinced you to take a moment now, before an emergency arises, to ask yourself what are you dependent on and what is your “plan B” if that option fails. With this in mind, what will you do differently? Please let us know what plans you have in place to assist with overcoming these dependencies! I, for one, may consider courier pigeons for communication!

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Heat Wave

by Charlene Burgi

The air temperatures in Marin have been pushing close to and into the 90s for more than a week now. The urge to increase our irrigation times seems natural to compensate for the heat, yet the Weekly Watering Schedule is saying to water less now than was suggested at the beginning of May. At that time, the evapotranspiration (ET) was 1.57 inches with a 106% Watering Index, compared to 0.97 inch with a 66% Watering Index this week.

You might ask why plants need more water in cooler spring than when the temperatures soar in early fall. The truth is air temperature only plays a small role in determining how much water our plants need.

CIMIS weather station

CIMIS weather station

But first, some background on how we determine the Weekly Watering Schedule: The California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) is a network of weather stations throughout California. Our CIMIS weather station is located near Point San Pedro Road in San Rafael and collects data points throughout the day that determine plant irrigation needs. Besides recording air temperature, our CIMIS station has instruments that measure soil temperature, hours of solar radiation, wind speed and direction, humidity level, and rainfall. We use all the collected data to calculate how much water is evaporating from the soil and transpiring from plants. Those results are transposed into inches. This tells us how many inches of lost water we need to replace with irrigation to maintain the optimal health for our gardens.

The question still remains why we irrigated more in late spring/early summer than we are now in the heat of fall. By examining the data collected by CIMIS, you will find that solar radiation is the key difference. Daylight hours play a critical role in a plant’s growing conditions and cycle of growth. In short: Even with the warm autumn weather we’ve been having, shorter days mean your plants don’t need as much water this time of year. (Without further investigation, I suspect daylight hours play a role in our animals’ cycle of winter survival as well; I notice the horses’ and donkeys’ sleek coats are beginning to come in heavier right now, despite the continuing warm weather.)

If you are following the suggested irrigation runtimes but find that some of your plants are wilting during the fall heat spells, check the soil moisture level. Oft times, the soil has adequate water available to the plant, but the plant cannot draw the water up to the leaf fast enough (usually found in very large leaf plants). In this situation the plant will droop but recover by the following morning.

If you are uncertain how much water your plant is receiving, you can experiment by placing an empty low can (such as a tuna can) near your plant before you irrigate. After the station is complete, measure the amount of water in the can and multiply that times the number of days you irrigate in that area each week. Check that number with the given ET loss per week to see if you are replacing what the plant loses. For example, if the can collected 0.25 inch and you irrigated three times a week, you are replacing 0.75 inch. Last week the ET was 0.91 inch, so if you only applied 0.75 inch last week you are not applying enough water to sustain the health of the plant.

To really do this test correctly, it would be best to distribute several cans throughout the area being irrigated and total the number of inches in the cans and divide that number of inches by the number of cans you have placed out. That test is known as distribution uniformity and is getting into a whole different topic for next week’s blog!

Have a great weekend, and stay hydrated if you are working outdoors.

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Recovery

by Charlene Burgi

“Recovery” seemed to be the buzzword this week. Oddly, recovery had everything to do with the healing properties of water!

Jack and I left this past weekend anticipating the fun-filled events planned for my class reunion from dear ol’ San Rafael High School. Prior to leaving, I set out 12 pansies in their tiny containers on the edge of our west-facing covered deck to capture the predicted rainfall. When it rains or snows at our home in Lassen, the rain manages to drift in toward the planters along the deck edge. What I didn’t anticipate was the storm came in from the east instead of the west and watered the front deck planters instead, leaving my poor pansies lacking for any means of hydration. My arrival home found those babies laying on their side and crinkly and apparently beyond hope. Nonetheless, after soaking them thoroughly, I found the pansies in full recovery by the next morning and blooming within two days.

rose and vintage bottle

1964: A very good year

That wasn’t the only flower that recovered this weekend. Each female graduate was presented with a long-stemmed red or white rose at the reunion to commemorate our school colors. The long drive back to Lassen found this perfect rose looking a little worse for the wear. By the time we arrived home that night, it drooped its head as if to protest its long journey in a paper cup filled with water. I cut the bottom of the stem a few inches and placed the rose into a water-filled stem vase. The rose, like the pansies, fully recovered by the next morning.

Before our trip to Marin, I noticed the soil becoming more powder-like to a deeper depth each day. The horses and donkeys didn’t help as they traversed to and fro, contributing to the breakdown of earth with their sharp hooves in the pastures and corral that surround our home. Just before we left, the heavens opened up to glorious rain, settling the dust and replenishing moisture to a water-starved land. The wind no longer carries dust in all directions. And for a time, the soil has recovered some moisture.

The rains didn’t only fall in Lassen. As we drove along Highway 505, we noted black clouds to the west. The clouds opened up as we drove along Highway 80, and the rains came down almost obscuring our vision. The radio flashed a warning of quarter-sized hail expected in the surrounding area, and we were amazed at the rare sighting of lightning as we approached Marin. Rain! The parched land, streams, and lakes soaked up this precious commodity and moved toward recovery and restoration.

Water is life-sustaining, yet we tend to take that information in stride. We assume water is there, it has always been there, and it will always be there. Do we fail to recognize it may be here, but not in the form we desire or are able to use? If we waste water in any fashion, is that arrogance on our part? Will the restoring rain cause us to become lax in our thinking about water? These are questions to ponder!

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by Charlene Burgi

The drought should not hold us back when it comes to planting fall bulbs. These little treasures are wrapped up with all that is needed, except soil, to bring splendor to our gardens. They can even be planted in areas that are void of irrigation. And we are in prime time to acquire some amazing future color for the garden without the worry of what the winter weather holds in store. Local nurseries should have large selections of various color combinations of classic daffodils, tulips, and crocus in addition to bulbs not so well known.

Chionodoxa glory-of-the-snow

Chionodoxa, or glory-of-the-snow, provide striking color in a rock garden.

You see, there are so many other bulbs that do not get the press that the aforementioned bulbs receive. For example, Chionodoxa, known as glory-of-the-snow, is a tiny bulb that blooms early in the spring and produces short, small iridescent flowers that are stunning against a rock outcropping. The first blooming flowers in the garden found me scurrying outdoors last spring to get a better look at their magnificent bell-shaped flowers.

Alliums, on the other hand, can grow as tall as four feet depending on the variety chosen. They carry their bulbous flower atop the stem looking much like a tightly clustered Agapanthus sitting proud above the leafless stem. They are related to the onion family. These bulbs make more of a statement when they are clustered together and add height to a drab area.

To add interest to those giants, throw in a few Fritillaria whose large, pendulous, bell-shaped flowers gently sway in the spring breeze. These flowers come in striking shades ranging from yellow to orange to chocolate brown. There is even a checker-patterned flower for the whimsical garden.

Daffodils

Daffodils are deer resistant.

Puschkinia scalloides, otherwise known as striped squill, is on my list, along with daffodils, for bulbs that deer won’t devour. These fragrant blue beauties will naturalize in the garden if given moist, well-drained soil. Placing them toward the bottom of a slope will assure they receive enough water from the natural drainage of the slope. Mixed together, the combination of yellow- and blue-colored bulbs will be stunning.

And speaking of well-drained soil, bulbs, like most plants, do not like sitting in water. Make certain that the heavy clay soil — famous in Marin — is well amended for quick drainage. Some folks add bone meal to the area before planting to improve drainage.

Are you unsure where to place your bulbs? Your garden can help you decide. Some people prefer a formal multi-row appearance, which works well in a garden with hedges. Others take the wild, meadow-like approach and toss the bulbs in the air, then plant them where they fall. Others plant in drifts by removing the soil to the depth required for each bulb type (usually three times the depth of the bulb), placing the bulbs within that area, and covering with the soil that was removed.

Don’t be afraid to layer your bulbs. Some require planting to a depth of six inches, while other bulbs may only need two inches of soil for cover. Plant them on top of each other and look for early, mid-, or late season bloom times to extend the flowering period. And don’t forget your containers. Pick up a few bulbs and tuck them into containers to set alongside your doorway. Many bulbs are fragrant, and nothing beats the whiff of an old-fashioned Freesia to greet you coming and going.

Planting bulbs in the fall requires so little of our time and gives so much in return. Try it, you won’t be sorry!

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Four deer in the backyard

Backyard visitors

The tug of my heart found me traveling to Bend, Oregon, to see six grandchildren where they reside. The road trip was a surprise as I expected to see some fall color in the trees, but summer was holding on to various shades of green. Nonetheless, the scenery was delightful.

My son Randy and his family live on the south side of town in an area that reminds me so much of Lake Tahoe. Thick groves of aspen and pine trees grow in profusion. Sitting on the back deck surrounded by this woodland brought such peace. The twins, Grace and Chris, pointed out the new fence that replaced the 6-foot fence that once stood at the back property line. They were quick to let me know this fence was built much shorter to accommodate the deer trail through their yard. The gate between the two yards was constructed with a latch enabling the gate to remain open for deer access. What a concept!

Vine maple

Vine maple (Acer circinatum)

Living with deer requires a different kind of landscape and attitude. As I looked around my son’s yard, I noticed he uses plants that are not often browsed by the beautiful four-legged friends. Native plants such as Mahonia (Oregon grape) and Acer circinatum (vine maple) border the perimeter of the garden. I was told more than one doe used this area for birthing. I could envision the deer resting under the vine maples in a month or more when these plants would show their true color combination of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Randy and I walked around the garden in the morning and found a doe and her two fawns nestled under the big pine trees. I marveled that the deer didn’t browse on the annual color on the back deck. It was almost as if they respected the working relationship between man and beast. As we walked, we spoke of adding a small natural stone basin of water to quench the deer’s thirst. The basin could be positioned to easily capture the spray of water from the lawn irrigation system, eliminating the maintenance to keep it filled.

The concept of living with nature, instead of fighting it, made sense to me. Often we build high fences or spray our plants with repellent to discourage the deer in our midst. Randy and the children’s actions gave me pause for thought. Foraging rabbits and squirrels caused my own vegetable garden to fail this year. I fought their presence instead of providing what they really wanted in the drought-stricken land. As I lamented the frustration of lost vegetables, Jack would remind me that the night marauders were only hungry. It made me wonder how much of the garden would have been untouched had I provided feed for them. My trip to Bend taught me that the winning combination of living with wildlife is to provide shelter, food, and water for them to live in harmony with us.

How have you remedied the wildlife situation in your garden? Are you fighting a losing battle by keeping them at bay? Or do you employ various strategies to live with them?

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