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Archive for the ‘Charlene Burgi’ Category

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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Autumn in the Air

by Charlene Burgi

There is a change in the air. The afternoon thermometer still registers in the 80s, but evening temperatures are rapidly dropping. The cooler evenings find me and Jack spending more time outside assessing what is needed in the garden before winter hits. And we pray it comes with abundant rain and snow here in Lassen County, just as that wish extends for ample water supplies for the entire West Coast.

Our evening assessments determined our first priority is to add more mulch to protect the plants’ root systems this winter. Refreshing organic mulch should be done every other year, if not annually. During the summer months, organic mulch seems to break down more rapidly than during the winter months. But that’s not a bad thing: The decomposed mulch adds nutrients to the soil that, in turn, further break down to feed the plants. Additionally, the cool blanket of mulch in the summer miraculously becomes a warm comforter to those same roots in the cold weather.

Dogs resting in garden mulch

Pups enjoying the mulch

We often use a metal probe to determine where more mulch is needed. We find the sunny gardens require more than the shade garden where the elements are not as harsh. In addition, with the pups using the sunny gardens as a personal playground, the mulch in those areas has a tendency to wander off. The differing depths of mulch needed in various areas can throw off our calculations. How do you figure out how much is needed?

Determining the quantity of mulch required for adequate coverage can be more specific than a wild guess about how many premeasured bags of bark to buy. A tape measure, paper, and a pencil are the only tools needed to come up with the cubic yardage. Once you know how many cubic yards are needed, you can purchase in bulk from the landscape materials yard, which may be more favorable to the pocketbook. Are you ready for this exercise?

  1. Measure the length and width of the planting area you need to mulch.
  2. Multiply those two numbers together to find the square footage of the area.
  3. Divide the square footage by 9 to convert to square yards (there are 9 square feet in a square yard).
  4. Determine the depth of mulch needed.
  5. Divide that number of inches needed into 36 (a yard equals 36 inches).
  6. Then divide that answer into the square yards to come up with the cubic yards of mulch needed.
Measuring mulch depth

Measuring mulch depth

Did I lose you? Here is an example. I know my shade garden is 20 feet by 30 feet, which equals 600 square feet. When I divide that number by 9, it equals 66.67 square yards. I want a thick 4-inch layer of mulch in the shade garden, but the mulch is already 2 inches deep, so I only need an additional 2 inches of mulch. I divide the 2 inches I need into 36 inches to come up with the number 18. I then divide 18 into the square yardage and find I need 3.7 cubic yards of mulch for my shade garden area. If I didn’t have any bark in the shade garden, but still wanted 4 inches of mulch, I would use the same formula but divide the 36 inches by 4. The answer of 9 is then divided into the 66.67 square yards equaling 7.4 cubic yards.

There are other ways to calculate this. I am certain many of you will be willing to share your formula with others facing this quandary but wishing to do the right thing for their plants. As with gardening, we all have our own ways of achieving the bottom line. Most of us work out problems in the fashion we were taught. Jack taught this method to me many years ago and it stuck. Does anyone have another formula that is easier? For gardeners who feel math-challenged, MMWD’s cubic calculator is another option!

Now might be a good time to go for an evening walk in the garden. What do you find on your list of things to do? Are the pruning tools sharpened? Are spring-blooming bulbs needed to fill in an empty space while requiring little water? Or is it just a pleasant night to take in the beauty?

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