Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

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.

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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

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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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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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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!



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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Fix a Leak Weekby Shasta Phillips

Household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. That’s enough water to fill 100 million swimming pools. It’s enough to submerge Marin County under 6 feet of water. It is enough water to give 100 billion poodles a much-needed bath. The point is, it is a lot of water.

I know what you’re thinking: “Enough with the fancy statistics, Shasta. Tell me what I can do to help stop leaks!” Well, MMWD has provided a handy Do-It-Yourself Survey to help you find leaks on your property. Following the simple step-by-step instructions in the guide may help you discover leaks that are wasting not only our precious resource, but also your hard-earned dollars.

“Do-it-yourself? No thanks!” Okay, okay. For those of you who would like help, invite one of our well-mannered conservation experts to your property to help check for leaks and identify other ways to reduce your water use. Learn more on our website, then call 415-945-1523 to schedule your free appointment.

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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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Earth Day Marin 2014We’re pleased to be a major sponsor and partner of the Earth Day Marin 2014 Festival. The fourth annual festival is scheduled for Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Redwood High School, 395 Doherty Drive in Larkspur.

The free, family-friendly event will include music, hands-on activities, inspiring speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, organic food, and more. The event is also a day of action on sustainability solutions addressing drought, climate change, and other environmental concerns.

In addition to sponsoring Earth Day Marin, we’ll be providing drinking water for the event—Mt. Tam’s finest!—as well as free stainless steel water bottles for the first 500 attendees who take action at the festival to reduce their water use.

We’ll have a variety of information and resources on hand to help you save water and money, and to learn more about where your water comes from. Highlights include:

  • Free high-efficiency showerheads and faucet aerators
  • One-on-one consultations with MMWD conservation specialists to help you calculate your home water use and find ways to save
  • Opportunities to sign up for MMWD rebates, water use surveys for your home or business, Marin-Friendly Garden Walks with Marin Master Gardeners, and more
  • Hands-on demonstrations of irrigation equipment
  • How to read your water meter
  • Water- and money-saving coupons from local retailers
  • Free illustrated posters of MMWD’s watershed and water system for first 150 families who visit the festival’s “water village”
  • Hands-on biodiversity activities about the plants and animals who call the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed home
  • Opportunities to volunteer on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed
  • Behind-the-scenes look at how your water gets from “Tam to tap”
  • Demonstrations of the high-tech acoustic equipment MMWD’s leak detectives use to locate leaks in the district’s 900 miles of pipeline
  • Screening of “The Invisible Peak,” Gary Yost’s new documentary about the hidden Cold War history of Mt. Tam’s West Peak and efforts to restore it

For complete details about the festival, visit earthdaymarin.org.

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