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Posts Tagged ‘irrigation’

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

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

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

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

Fix a Leak Week

What better time to check for irrigation and other leaks?

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

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

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

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

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by Charlene Burgi

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

Persian water wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Dan Carney

help your trees survive the drought thumbnail

Infographic: Help Your Trees Survive the Drought. Click for a downloadable PDF. (Courtesy of the California Urban Forests Council)

According to the Department of Water Resources, California usually receives 75 percent of its annual precipitation between November and March, and in many parts of California landscape plants need little or no winter watering during this time. When rain doesn’t show up, plants become stressed and need an occasional drink to survive. If you’re trying to decide how to meet your conservation goals, consider letting lawns and other less-essential landscape plants go dry and focus on keeping the trees healthy.

Trees bring incredible values to the community that increase every year. Literally, money grows on trees in the form of water, soil, and energy conservation; habitat value; air quality improvements; carbon sequestration; and quality of life. It’s hard to find a better economic deal anywhere worth the gallons of water required to keep trees alive.

Mature trees, with access to groundwater and broad extensive root systems, usually are better adapted to periodic droughts—100-year oaks have weathered some tough times—and may actually be harmed by supplemental irrigation. Please consult your local UC Cooperative Extension office, certified arborist, landscape professional, or MMWD if you have specific questions about your trees.

For most newly planted and newly established trees, here is a simplified method you can follow to ensure they get enough water to survive the drought: Rule of thumb—10 gallons per week per inch of trunk diameter.

♦ Using a garden hose:

Newly planted trees: Place the hose on the ground near the root ball. Turn on the faucet to medium flow. Give the tree 10 gallons of water for every inch of tree trunk diameter (measured 6” above the ground). Since newly planted trees have limited root systems, they may need to be watered 2-3 times each week. For example, a 2-inch diameter tree will get a total of 20 gallons of water each week. If the hose flows at 5 gallons per minute, water for 1-2 minutes several times a week. (Use the second-hand on your watch and a bucket to measure gallons per minute.)

Newly established trees (1-5 years old): Place the hose on the ground as near as possible to the outside edge of the branches (the drip line). Follow the same watering guideline (10 gallons per inch of trunk diameter), but measure the trunk diameter at chest height. Because established trees have a more extensive root system they can be watered less frequently (about once every 7-10 days) depending on the soil type and time of year. For example, using a hose flowing at 5 gallons per minute, a 5-inch diameter tree would be watered for 10 minutes (50 gallons) every 7-10 days.

♦ Using drip emitter tubing:

Newly planted trees: Place the drip emitter tubing directly on top of the soil and in a circle near the root ball. A typical drip emitter hose with one-gallon-per-hour emitters spaced one foot apart would need to operate for about 40 minutes 2-3 times a week.

Newly established trees (1-5 years old): Place the drip emitter tubing directly on top of the soil and in a circle near the outside edge of the branches (the drip line). For a tree that was planted 1-5 year ago, run the drip emitter tubing for 90 minutes every 7-10 days.

Important note: If water starts to runoff or pond, reduce the flow, move the hose to a new location around the tree every few minutes, or water for fewer minutes at a time so that all water infiltrates completely into the soil. Finally, apply a generous 4-inch deep layer of organic mulch under the tree (keeping the mulch 6 inches away from the trunk) to preserve the moisture in the soil.

Taking the time to correctly water trees helps preserve scarce water resources and maintains a healthy environment for everyone.

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by Christina Mountanos

It’s both remarkable and worrisome that the local forecast is still filled to the brim with sunshine. With 2013 earning the title of driest year in MMWD’s recorded history, and no end in sight, everyone I know is at least a little on-edge. Veterans of the 1976-77 drought have been busy tightening their belts, and our phones have been abuzz with customers expressing their concerns. One thing’s for sure, the time for everyone to do their part is now! Where can you begin? If you’re on a limited budget, a new homeowner, or just don’t know where to start, the following list can help! Check out some of the most popular, and effective, ways to save:

1. Check for leaks and repair them immediately. One in three of our customers have leaks and don’t even realize it. Don’t become part of the statistic! Check your home for leaky toilets and dripping fixtures. Many repairs are simple, inexpensive, and can reduce your indoor water usage by nearly 15 percent. Need some guidance? Read our fun, informative instructions on “How to Be a Leak Detective” to get started.

2. Turn off your automatic sprinkler system and water plants only as needed. Switching your irrigation timer to the “off” position is an easy, no-cost way to save water. Rest assured that despite the dry weather conditions, plants need about 80 percent less water this time of year than they do in the summer months. Keep an eye on your garden and only water periodically, if plants are showing signs of stress. Once spring rolls around, let us help you decide when it’s right to turn things back on. Sign up for our online Weekly Watering Schedule and receive weekly e-mails with guidelines on how much to water.

3. Check your water pressure and install pressure-compensating faucet aerators and showerheads. High water pressure in your home can cause faucets and showerheads to use more water, so it’s important to know what you have. Sixty pounds per square inches is just right for most homes, but check with a plumber to be sure. Also consider installing pressure-compensating showerheads and faucet aerators. Installing a two-gallon-per-minute showerhead can save up to 2,900 gallons annually. Putting in new aerators on your bathroom and kitchen faucets can save 700 gallons more.

4. Check your water meter. Take charge of your water usage by learning to read your meter and doing some simple math. It’s just as easy as reading the odometer in your car and only takes a few minutes. Taking weekly readings will help you spot any unusual usage, catch leaks, and avoid surprises on your bill. Use the handy form we have available online to record your readings or download a smart-phone application to store it for you!

5. Participate in MMWD’s free conservation programs. Very few things in this world are free. Fortunately, one thing you can still get is a water use survey with one of our conservation specialists. Let us help you identify ways to save water in your home (indoors and out) and provide you with complimentary showerheads and aerators (as needed, of course). Call our Conservation Assistance Program hotline at (415) 945-1523 to set up an appointment.

6. Install high-efficiency WaterSense-labeled toilets. Toilets are responsible for nearly 30 percent of our indoor water usage. That’s why, time-and-time-again, replacing old, inefficient models tops the list of ways to save. Purchase a new high-efficiency toilet (HET) and save 20-60 percent per flush, for a significant reduction of 13,000 gallons annually. Consider dual-flush to further your savings, check map-testing.com to get your hands on cold, hard facts about performance, and go to our website for rebate information on qualifying models so you can get paid to save! Toilets save water year-round, and you’ll find them in price ranges made for everyone.

7. Install a high-efficiency clothes washer. Second only to toilets are the workhorses we call clothes washers. You can put your old 30-40 gallon clunker to shame by purchasing a new high-efficiency model that uses 18 gallons or less. Take advantage of our current rebate program to save water, energy, and money.

8. Install a WaterSense-labeled smart irrigation controller. Purchase a new “smart” controller and never forget to reduce your watering schedule again! The EPA estimates these controllers—which take their cues from real-time weather conditions—can save the average family 8,800 gallons annually. Schedule a pre-inspection with one of our conservation specialists, then take advantage of MMWD’s rebate for $20 per active station. Smart controllers are made by a variety of manufacturers and, like toilets, are available in a range of prices.

9. Add compost and mulch. Amend, amend, amend your soil. Gets your hands on some organic compost, or make your own! The benefits are overwhelming. Feeding your soil with compost nourishes plants, helps with aeration, resolves compaction issues, prevents runoff, and helps retain moisture. Since plants residing in amended soils fare better in drought conditions, twice a year spread two to four inches of compost over the top or your soil, then dig it into the top six to 12 inches. Follow-up with two to four inches of mulch and get ready to help make whatever moisture we receive this rainy season last!

10. Make your garden water-smart. Upgrade your irrigation system by converting some of your spray systems to drip irrigation. Or, improve the efficiency of your current sprinklers by changing them to high-efficiency rotor-type nozzles. Rotors can fit into existing spray bodies and use one-third less water. By putting out water in small, finger-like streams, they water slowly, more evenly, and reduce water loss due to evaporation and runoff. While you’re at it, consider removing some of your turf grass. A small-sized area of turf, with a spray system operating at ten gallons per minute, can easily use 100 gallons per day, 300 per week, and 15,600 annually! Replacing your lawn with native, low-water use plants is a great way to conserve water and save money. Check out the links on our “Water-Wise Plants” page to find some gorgeous inspirations.

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by Craig Lauridsen

As you probably already know, 2013 was a dry year. With a total of 10.68 inches for the calendar year, 2013 set a new record low for rainfall in Marin. The previous low was 19 inches back in 1929. So a logical question would be: If the rain is not watering my plants, how much do I need to irrigate? MMWD’s website currently states:

Please turn off your irrigation system for the season. If dry weather continues, check newly planted, container and high-water-use plants for stress and water if needed. Note that, even without rain, most plants require little water this time of year.

I would like to add a personal touch to this statement. My backyard has a small, 500-square-foot patch of 90/10 tall fescue. We get a lot of use out of this lawn: I have a black lab that loves to play fetch, and my 14-month-old toddler is quickly learning that it’s less painful to fall on grass than on the patio. Even though grass is among the highest water-use plants, usually our rains provide all the winter irrigation a lawn needs. This year, though, I started to get concerned when one dry day followed the next. However, as a water conservation specialist, my training and experience told me it’s not that low rainfall equals thirsty plants but that low evapotranspiration (ET) equals plants that aren’t very thirsty. ET is the loss of water to the atmosphere by the combined processes of evaporation (from soil and plant surfaces) and transpiration (from plant tissues). It is a good indicator of how much water your lawn, garden, and trees need to stay healthy—and in winter it tends to be pretty low.

The California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) pulls data from over 120 automated weather stations throughout California and has been around for over 30 years. MMWD uses CIMIS data from the weather stations within our service area to create the Weekly Watering Schedule. CIMIS uses many variables to help users determine how much to water:

  • precipitation
  • solar radiation
  • vapor pressure
  • air temperature
  • relative humidity
  • dew point
  • wind speed
  • soil temperature
Craig's lawn

Even with almost no irrigation this winter, Craig’s lawn is still healthy and happy.

According to 2013 data from the Marin weather stations—and despite less than two inches of rain during December—plants needed about 80 percent less irrigation in December than during the average summer month. This information allowed me to comfortably decide to water my lawn only one day in the month of December.

I also have several other plants (lavender, rosemary, heavenly bamboo, breath of heaven, lantana, various grasses, etc.) that received zero irrigation in the month of December, all of which are doing just fine. I also have rosemary in a pot on my front porch that gets plenty of afternoon sun and starts to brown if I don’t water it one to two days per week in the summer; however, it was completely happy with only one watering in December. My brother used a few sprigs of this plant to prepare his famous garlic rosemary mashed potatoes that received lots of positive attention during our Christmas dinner.

Different species of plants handle dry and/or freezing conditions differently, so it’s important to learn about your own plants. But my earlier point still stands and is worth repeating: It’s not that low rainfall equals thirsty plants but that low evapotranspiration (ET) equals plants that aren’t very thirsty.

Another thing you can do to help manage your landscape water use is to replace your standard irrigation controller with a smart irrigation controller. MMWD is offering rebates for smart controllers, toilets, and clothes washers. Visit the rebate section of our website for more information.

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by Charlene Burgi

The increased threat of nice weather (that statement just seems wrong) has me planning ahead for how to enjoy a vegetable garden this year even if the very dry conditions continue. You might be asking why bother with a garden when we are being asked to conserve? There is nothing better than having a pot of soup* cooking on the stove knowing the veggies within came from your garden. Or that the salsa that accompanied the multi-grain chips at the New Year’s Eve party originated 50 feet from the kitchen table.

It didn’t take me long to crack open the books to find answers, as living without a vegetable garden is not an option if I can do it with minimal impact. Research revealed great ideas if you are also pondering the same concerns.

Ironically, one idea came to me while looking at maturity dates. Since moving to Lassen County, I have found the growing season to be very short. The last frost date here is late May, and snow has fallen historically every month of the summer. Gardening is a challenge here, and two years running found my tomatoes ripening in boxes in the laundry room, so maturity date listings are critical. That is when the idea struck me!

Why couldn’t Marinites start their garden indoors or in greenhouses or cold frames this month, move their crops outdoors in March after the danger of frost is over, and use crops that have a quick turnaround from seed to fruit production? Spring water needs for vegetables are minimal compared to mid-summer water requirements.

Choose seeds that thrive in cooler weather. Lettuce, spinach, beets, onions, garlic, broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and peas produce much better in cooler weather. Water needs are held to a minimum if you are harvesting before summer.

Dog in the garden

Amendment inspector Sassy

Think deep! Amend, amend, amend your garden area. Get another layer of compost added to your garden now. Instead of double digging, triple dig the garden to provide an avenue for roots to grow into cooler, moister soil. And don’t forget three to four inches of mulch!! Place large flat stones around the base of tomatoes to hold the moisture in the soil and reflect heat during cool spring months.

Speaking of tomatoes, dry irrigating tomatoes is on my list of experiments this year. If you have a pile of well-composted material that is several feet deep, you might want to try this too. Plant the tomatoes in this medium and stop regular watering once you see the fruit set. Irrigate only when you see the leaves droop, then water deeply. And let the plants sprawl on the ground to hold down evaporation! The plant may not win any prizes for appearance or for the quantity of fruit produced, but the taste of the tomato is said to be spectacular.

Sheltering the garden from winds also reduces evaporation. Plant the garden in a depressed area with taller plants like Amaranthus around the border to keep the vegetables protected. Once irrigation season starts, adjust the watering time on your irrigation controller to irrigate while it is dark outside and winds typically are non-existent. Plants don’t like “wet feet” at night, but watering in the wee morning hours works well. Use drip emitters instead of sprays to deliver water directly to the root zone. If you don’t have a smart controller, pay attention to the Weekly Watering Schedule and water according to the evapotranspiration rate. Water deeply and less frequently.

Watering by hand is a challenge. Water the garden at dusk to minimize evaporation, taking care to keep water off of the leaves. Create dams around each plant. Water until the soil looks shiny and maintains that sheen for five seconds after you stop watering. This method will not work on clay soil that hasn’t been amended. Clay will typically form a puddle instead of drawing water down to the root system.

And lastly, I love the idea offered by one of our readers this past week. Double-use your water! Use a dishpan to collect water that would typically run down the drain and reuse that water to water a potted plant. See last week’s post for Alice’s comments for additional water conserving. Thanks for your ideas, Alice!

*Soup’s on for company!

Bubbling Tortellini Soup

Bubbling tortellini soup

Tortellini Tomato Spinach Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic (minced)
6 cups of broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)
6 large tomatoes (I used frozen tomatoes that melt while cooking)
10 ounces of baby spinach
¼ cup homemade pesto
9 ounces of tortellini
1 cup dry red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent. Add broth, wine and tomatoes. Turn up heat to high and bring to a boil until the frozen tomatoes have melted. Add tortellini, spinach and basil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately and garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Add French bread to the table to complete the meal. Buon appetito!

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by Charlene Burgi

The saying “Timing is everything” couldn’t hold truer than at this moment regarding water conservation. Incoming news from Marin is giving us time to plan.

A few days before Christmas an email came to my inbox stating that the MMWD Board of Directors passed a resolution calling on customers to conserve water due to the record-breaking low rainfall we have experienced in the past year.

To further drive this point home, Wendy, a dear friend from the Water Conservation Department, shared Christmas with us. Upon her arrival, she showed us the Marin IJ, which carried a front page story about the extremely dry conditions.

The article reported statistics that shocked me. I read that less than 11 inches of rain fell in Marin in 2013. That is eight fewer inches than the recorded low from 1929—less on a calendar year basis than the debilitating drought we remember so well in the ‘70s!

This news gave me pause for thought. We have time to cinch our belts now and check our conservation practices at home as well as at work. Good times often make us more lax in our practices and habits—conserving water is no exception! Perhaps it is time to reassess our daily routine.

There is time right now to check for dripping faucets that may have been placed on a back burner. Repair them with proper washers or replace the culprit if it is beyond repair. Did a water survey reveal a leaking toilet that needs a flapper replacement? Did that chore get put off until the proverbial tomorrow? Has the irrigation controller been upgraded to a smart controller, or is it still programmed by the “by guess, by golly” method? Is the soil amended so irrigation water soaks into the root zone, or does the heavy clay cause the water to run off? Are the planting beds heavily mulched to inhibit evaporation? Drip systems need to be checked for missing emitters, spray heads require visual analysis to determine if the spray is targeting the intended area and didn’t vibrate into the street or sidewalk.

Smart irrigation controllers

MMWD is offering rebates on smart irrigation controllers and more. Visit marinwater.org/rebates for details. (Photo by Richard Wheeler)

The water district can help you with your conservation efforts in several ways. If you have never had a water survey, call to have one of MMWD’s specialists visit your home, check for leaks and offer suggestions for how to conserve. While there, the specialist can talk to you about rebate programs that could save you money toward the purchase of a new high-efficiency toilet (or two), washing machine and smart controller.

Timing is everything. The water we save right now means that much more water in our reservoirs for that much longer. New ideas, new habits and renewed practices put into action now also will give time for a seamless transition if the dry weather persists and we must move from voluntary to mandatory use reduction.

And what better time to start or renew good practices! We are always thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Let conservation be at the top of your list.

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by Dan Carney

Water has a knack for quietly leaking 24-hours-a-day out of even the smallest cracks and crevices. In fact, it’s so good at finding ways to hide that one-third of all properties in Marin have water leaks. MMWD staff perform thousands of free Conservation Assistance Program (CAP) surveys at homes and businesses every year and discover leaking toilets, sprinkler lines and valves that sometimes account for 25 percent or more of the water used at the site—that’s a lot of wasted water and money!

MMWD Rebates: Get Paid to SaveIf you think it’s time for a free CAP survey to check for leaks, give us a call on the CAP hotline at 945-1523 and we’ll be glad to set up an appointment and meet with you at your property. As an extra bonus, MMWD has rebate dollars available for customers to replace leaky old toilets, water-guzzling clothes washers and out-of-control irrigation controllers. Visit the rebate website at marinwater.org/rebates or give conservation staff a call at 945-1527. Rebate dollars are limited, so get yours today!

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