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Posts Tagged ‘tips’

Standard Time

by Charlene Burgi

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus

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

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

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

Insulated pipe

Insulated pipe

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

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

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

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by Charlene Burgi

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

Future henhouse?

Future henhouse?

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

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

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

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

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

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Heat Wave

by Charlene Burgi

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

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

CIMIS weather station

CIMIS weather station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recovery

by Charlene Burgi

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

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

rose and vintage bottle

1964: A very good year

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

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

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

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

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Four deer in the backyard

Backyard visitors

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

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

Vine maple

Vine maple (Acer circinatum)

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

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

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

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

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Autumn in the Air

by Charlene Burgi

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

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

Dogs resting in garden mulch

Pups enjoying the mulch

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

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

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

Measuring mulch depth

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

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

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

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by Charlene Burgi

Low water at Shasta Lake

Shasta Lake on August 25, 2014, looking west from Pit River Bridge (California Department of Water Resources)

The email messages and news about drought conditions are flooding my inbox and my senses. Pictures of Lake Oroville and Folsom depict mere ribbons where large bodies of waters once resided. Driving by Shasta Lake and the Pit River, I experienced a shocking eyewitness view of the voids where water once lapped banks and rippled along the water course. All around are signs of extreme drought conditions.

MMWD is faring better than much of the state, with reservoirs at 92% of average storage for this time of year. Those numbers reflect the great job everyone in Marin is doing right this minute. What amazes me is that the district’s seven reservoirs are totally dependent on rainfall. They are not fed by large rivers or snowfall from afar. The water saved in those reservoirs is the direct result of local weather conditions and local water conservation. With that said, congratulations on the job you are doing!

And what are you doing to help others find tricks to employ in their homes? I know MMWD is offering a variety of resources from on-site water-use surveys, to rebates for water-saving devices, to free shutoff nozzles for garden hoses (pick up yours at the Corte Madera office). But my curiosity and thirst for knowledge want to get more personal. What are you doing? How are you educating your family about water conservation? What tips can you share that others can utilize?

I, for one, sadly let the vegetable garden go. Not only are we conserving water by eliminating the irrigation to that area, but the multitude of squirrels and rabbits have devoured every fruit and veggie that began to resemble something edible. The mild winters have made way for prolific garden predators looking for anything to eat. Except for the asparagus, no vegetation was spared from the night marauders. Chain-link gates across the greenhouse door (left open for ventilation) made a perfect ladder for visitors to gain entry to coveted tomatoes. Nothing was spared including the basil, parsley, and Swiss chard. Forgive my rant. Once again, I digress!

Peony before and after pruning

Peony before and after pruning

You might be interested in another conservation method that works. You can slightly stress perennial plants that will go dormant, such as peonies. Keep roots just moist enough, but cut back or thin out vegetation to minimize the irrigation needed to keep viable what little foliage is left. The remaining canopy will still provide shade for the roots and crown. The smaller canopy of the plant will reduce the water needed. (The Weekly Watering Schedule lists irrigation needs for different canopy sizes.) Be advised not to remove more than a third of any plant when pruning, and make your thinning cuts back to an outside bud.

Thanks for taking the time to share what led you to a successful conservation effort. Keep up the great work!

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