Posts Tagged ‘graywater’

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 Robin McKillop

Marin-Friendly gardenWe are currently accepting applications for host gardens in Marin to feature on next spring’ s Marin-Friendly Garden Tour on Saturday, May 18, 2013.  This educational event will showcase beautiful and inspiring gardens that use practices sensitive to our local environment, particularly ones that protect and conserve our precious water resources.

We are looking for a variety of Marin-Friendly gardens, both homegrown and professionally designed and maintained, that incorporate sustainable elements such as low-water-use or native plants, edibles, permaculture, rain and stormwater catchment, composting, lawn conversions, graywater systems and more. This is an excellent opportunity for landscape architects, professionals and homeowners alike to showcase their gardening talents and successes.  The Marin Municipal Water District will provide docent support at your garden on the day of the tour to assist with making the event fun and satisfying for everyone.  We are pleased to announce that tour attendance will be free for the first time ever in 2013!

For additional information about the Marin-Friendly Garden Tour, and to download an application form, visit the Marin-Friendly Garden Tour webpage.  Priority will be given to applications received by November 15, 2012.

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by Charlene Burgi

Is it really January? The skies are crystal clear and the breezes are warm and gentle. This beautiful weather is drawing me away from what I should be doing in the garden right now. I should be checking the nurseries stocked with large bare root assortments of roses, fruit trees, perennial vegetables and ornamentals. I should be perusing seed catalogs and planning for the spring vegetable gardens, but the balmy weather is causing me to fawn after plants that would perish in cold wet weather. This false spring is a temptress!

The unusual weather has led several people to wonder if water rationing is on the horizon. In fact, just thinking about “rationing” brought me back to the ‘70s in Marin when we took extreme measures to save our landscaping. I still have unpleasant memories of hauling buckets of laundry water out to my plants. I wonder now if we had worked harder at conserving our water before that drought, could we have saved more plants from their demise?

The good news is that, thanks to last year’s heavy rains, our reservoirs are only a little below their average capacity for this time of year, and there’s still plenty of time for more rain. But the long dry spell is a reminder of how unpredictable our rainfall can be from year to year and hence why conservation is always important. The more we save now, the less chance of needing to ration water in the future. The question is, why wait? Here are some things we can do right now:

First, attend the Laundry to Landscape class this Saturday, January 14, to learn how to divert laundry water to the garden. Every load of wash could mean several gallons of water rerouted to plants, and every gallon diverted is water saved in our reservoirs and for the salmon. My earlier vision of sore biceps in the ‘70s fades as I consider the ease of minor plumbing changes today.

Next, call to schedule a free Green House Call with California Youth Energy Services. They will check for both electrical and water efficiency and even give your home a mini retrofit with water-efficient showerheads, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and more.

While the weather is so wonderful, check the thickness of mulch around plants to slow the evaporation of moisture from the soil. For new plants, choose water-wise varieties that can provide lots of color without guzzling the liquid gold to survive. When planting them, add a healthy amount of organic matter to the native soil for better moisture retention. Do use the precious resource for edible crops and work the soil with lots of composted materials before planting the vegetable garden this spring.

Irrigation systems are another source of waste if not kept in prime condition. Consider if some spray systems could be converted into drip systems now. A good QWEL irrigation landscape contractor could help here. You might consider turning the irrigation system on—especially if your plants are in need of a drink anyway—to note what needs fixing before irrigation season. Walk around each station while it is watering to make sure emitters aren’t plugged or popped off the tubing. Check spray heads to make certain they are directed toward the area you want watered. Invest in a smart controller to take the guess work out of how long the system should run to keep your plants healthy. We didn’t have smart controllers in the ’70s. This is yet another tool to ease the thought of rationing.

How many water saving ideas can you think of? Please share those ideas with everyone who reads the blog. I will post your tips weekly. The beauty of saving now is we still have several months left for potential rain, and meanwhile we are developing some great habits. I am willing to bet those of us who lived through the ‘70s drought are still implementing many water-saving practices we learned back then!

Frost Damage and Pruning

Since I discussed pruning techniques in the past two weeks, it would be prudent for me to warn that this is not the time to prune frost-tender plants such as bougainvillea and citrus. Despite the temperate days, a hard frost could present itself at any time and do some serious damage. Those tender plants would be left unprotected with their top growth missing. This type of plant must wait until late March or April to see a set of pruning shears. More pruning detail for these plants to follow at that time.

Have a great weekend.

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by Charlene Burgi

Yet-to-be-pruned peach tree

Yet-to-be-pruned peach tree

Last week’s blog discussed the basics of pruning and included some safety rules. Please review the ten rules here if you missed that post before you begin pruning.

Winter fruit tree pruning is important in that a tree left unpruned will eventually fail to produce fruit. This week let’s tackle the basics of pruning fruit trees. I say basics realizing that I am attempting to condense a subject that fills books.

The age of your tree will determine how you approach the job. A young tree needs to develop strength in its branches and trunk to support the weight of the fruit it will carry when the tree is mature. Begin by determining the natural shape of the tree. Some trees such as apples, pears and sweet cherries grow with a central leader. They have one main trunk and develop alternate branches to form an open goblet allowing light to come into to the center of the tree. In contrast, peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums require an open center method of pruning: Choose three to five well-distributed side branches and remove the central leader. They will look more like an upside-down bowl.

For all fruit trees:

  1. Begin pruning your fruit tree by following the basic rules from last week’s list.
  2. The lateral branches need to be spaced out equally throughout the tree.
  3. Remove the weaker of two branches growing on opposite sides of the trunk to achieve alternate spacing of branches.
  4. Peaches and nectarines need about 12 inches of spacing between the branches. Apples and pears will need about 18 inches.
  5. Remove lateral branches that form a tight crotch at the base of the branch.
  6. Determine where you want the bottom branch because branches will remain at that height in maturity. Consider, in future, if you want to walk under the tree and reach for the fruit or have the fruit at a lower elevation for easy picking. At a minimum, keep the lower branches at least three feet from the ground.
  7. Cut at an angle a quarter-of-an-inch above an outside node to prevent new growth from growing to the inside of the tree.

It is important to understand that some trees bear their fruit on old wood, while some bear on new wood. For example, apples, apricots, pears and plums grow woody spurs no more than four inches long. Apples form on those spurs, so it would behoove you to protect that wood from your pruning shears! Pears, apricots and plums will bear fruit on old wood and one-year-old lateral shoots, so don’t be afraid to snip back one-third of this past year’s growth to shape the tree and encourage more wood for next year’s fruit production. Peaches and nectarines grow on new wood, so be careful to prune back no more than one-third of the new branch shoot to maximize fruit production. Please find more details and examples of your specific variety of fruit tree on the internet or in a good pruning book. You will find a wealth of information out there.

The last part of the job involves raking up and removing all wood, dead leaves and debris around the tree to prevent disease. For example, shotgun-hole fungus will continue to transmit to the new leaves if the dead leaves are left on the ground. If last year’s leaves look like someone shot them full of holes, do not compost them!

The big job is done. Pat yourself on the back and start thinking of the wonderful bounty that awaits you!

Register for These Upcoming Events

Landscape Professionals: The very popular, seven-week Bay-Friendly Landscape Maintenance Training and Qualification Program starts February 1 in San Rafael. This is a great opportunity to become a recognized expert in Bay-Friendly landscaping and expand your business to offer cutting-edge sustainable maintenance practices.

Everyone: There’s still time to register for our FREE Laundry to Landscape workshop on January 14. Join us and learn how to use water from your clothes washer for landscape irrigation.

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by Charlene Burgi

Last week I mentioned the need to water plants due to severe dry wind conditions. Wind, like intense heat, can be a water robber that saps life-sustaining moisture from plants. Both elements can have the same ill effect: Plants are unable to transpire fast enough, causing the tips and edges of the leaves to dry up. Intense heat can be corrected by proper mulch and irrigating during the wee hours. However, wind must be treated in a different manner.

What can you do if wind is a problem in your garden? First, reflect on various types of wind screens that will protect plants. You can construct fencing or use plant material to achieve this goal. Our gut instinct is to put up a solid fence to protect the area. However, take note if you are attempting to create a wind block. A solid fence acts to wind just as a low-lying wall acts with ocean wave. The wind or wave action rides up on the barrier and slams down on the opposite side, creating more damage than anticipated. Design the fence so the wind has the ability to move through the fence rather than meet a solid board wall. Similarly, if you use plants for screening, plant various types and heights to create multiple layers allowing the wind to be diffused.

Implementing these methods will allow you to experience a gentle breeze rather than gale forces that are hard on plants and make it difficult for you to enjoy your garden!

Nominate a Garden

We’re looking for beautiful and inspiring home gardens to feature on next spring’s Bay-Friendly Garden Tour scheduled for Saturday, May 19, 2012. This is the first time Marin County will be participating in this 9th annual Bay Area event (which takes the place of our previous annual tour known as the Eco-Friendly Garden Tour). Home gardeners and landscape professionals alike are welcome to nominate a garden for the tour. We’re looking for gardens that incorporate sustainable elements such as low-water-use or native plants, urban food growing, permaculture, rain and stormwater catchment, composting, lawn conversions, graywater systems and more. To nominate a garden, contact Elena at (415) 945-1164 or efreeman@marinwater.org by Tuesday, November 22. Garden selections will be finalized before the end of 2011.

Mark Your Calendars!

Speaking of Bay-Friendly, we are approaching time of year to register for the landscape professional certification program, which starts February 1. If you are a landscape professional or know a landscape professional who would benefit from this seven-week program, click here for more information.

And for homeowners, we also have a series of workshops coming up that can assist you with great ideas for becoming more water efficient. Have you considered installing a rainwater catchment system? Would you like to know more about laundry-to-landscape graywater systems? How would you like to learn more about composting the Bay-Friendly way? This FREE workshop series, co-sponsored by The Urban Farmer Store, begins December 10. Click here for more information.

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leaves with raindropsThe Marin Municipal Water District invites our customers to join us this winter and spring for a FREE series of sustainable landscape workshops, co-sponsored by The Urban Farmer Store of Mill Valley. The series, which kicks off December 10, will cover a number of techniques for using water wisely in your garden, from rainwater harvesting to graywater reuse to managing your irrigation system and more.

The workshops will be Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. – noon, at the Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto, Mill Valley. Sign up for any one or all of the workshops. Space is limited, so don’t wait. To register, contact MMWD at (415) 945-1521.

December 10:  Rainwater Harvesting Basics
An introduction to rain harvesting that includes a presentation and hands-on exploration of the “nuts and bolts” in a basic residential system.

January 14: Laundry to Landscape
In this hands-on workshop you will learn how to use water from your clothes washer for landscape irrigation. These simple graywater systems can be installed in your home without a building permit.

March 10: From the Ground Up
Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy garden. Understanding your soil will help you grow a blossoming and productive garden. Backyard composting, sheet mulching and other soil building techniques will be covered in this workshop.

April 14: Irrigation Essentials
Take a look at how to efficiently program your irrigation timer based on Marin microclimates and seasonal weather changes. Learn how to update and upgrade your irrigation system so you get the most from every drop.

Additional Rainwater Harvesting Workshops

MMWD and The Urban Farmer Store also are co-sponsoring a full-day, Introduction to Rainwater Harvesting workshop on Saturday, February 18, 2012 as well as rainwater harvesting professional certification courses February 20-21 and 22-23. These courses are presented by the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA). For more information and to register, visit arcsa.org.

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by Elena Freeman

Share your Bay-Friendly gardenWe are currently looking for home gardens in Marin to feature on next spring’s Bay-Friendly Garden Tour. This annual event showcases beautiful and inspiring gardens that use practices sensitive to our local environment.

The gardens we want to feature incorporate sustainable elements such as low-water-use or native plants, urban food growing, permaculture, rain and stormwater catchment, composting, lawn conversions, graywater systems and more. Home gardeners and landscape professionals alike are invited to nominate a garden for the 2012 tour.

The Marin tour will be on Saturday, May 19, 2012. To nominate a garden, contact Elena Freeman at (415) 945-1164 or efreeman@marinwater.org.

In previous years, the garden tour in Marin was known as the Eco-Friendly Garden Tour. This will be the first year we are joining forces with the Bay-Friendly Landscaping & Gardening Coalition in its 9th annual tour throughout the Bay Area.

For more information on the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour and to find tour dates in other Bay Area locations, visit bayfriendlycoalition.org/GardenTour.shtml.

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by Keith Bancroft

EcoFair MarinCome out and join members of the MMWD Water Conservation staff and Marin Master Gardeners at the first annual EcoFair Marin, held at the Marin County Fairgrounds this Sunday, September 4, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. General admission is $5;  children 17 and under are free.

EcoFair Marin’s mission it to honor Marin County’s rich heritage of innovative environmental stewardship. There will be an amazing array of speakers, exhibitors, musicians and activities for the whole family.

A small sample of the various offerings:

10:00 a.m. – Best Ways to Save Water Inside and Outside Your Home, with Tom Bressan of Urban Farmer Store, John Russel of Watersprout and Gary Klein of Affiliated International Management LLC.

11:00 a.m. – Graywater Technology for Conservation. Tom Bressan of Urban Farmer Store demonstrates a graywater system.

1:00 p.m. – Local Leaders of Sustainable Farming, with Mark Pasternak, Kevin Maloney and Dominic Grossi, moderated by Viven Straus of Cowgirl Creamery.

3:00 p.m. – Fresh Cheese Splash – Cheesemaking Class. Learn the basics of home cheesemaking from the San Francisco Milk Maid.

For a complete listing of activities visit www.ecofairmarin.org.

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