DIG THIS! Green Musings from GBG inc.

Keeping The Bees

A honey bee at work on a sunflower in Morro Bay

A honey bee at work on a sunflower in Morro Bay

In 2006, conservation biologists at the University of Goettingen in Germany teamed up with scientists at UC Berkeley to test the widely-accepted horticultural maxim that one out of three bites of food we eat depends on a pollinator such as bees (1). Surprisingly, or not, it turned out to be true.

By studying 115 of the most common food crops, researchers calculated that 87 depend to some degree upon animal pollination, accounting for one-third of global crop production. In fact, many crops rely on the hardworking honeybee for more than 90% of their pollination. In other words, we need bees.

As with other aspects of our natural world that we take for granted, bees have gained a lot of attention due to their threatened status. Bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate during these first decades of the 21st century. Scientists coined the term “colony collapse disorder” in 2006 when reports of unprecedented colony losses began piling up from various locations across the US and in Europe. The suspected culprits included habitat degradation, viruses, parasites, pests, air pollution, electromagnetic fields and herbicides and pesticides.

The most puzzling part of this phenomenon was that thriving colonies – tens of thousands of bees – would seemingly disappear overnight. To make matters worse, beekeepers were not finding any dead bees in and around the hive. After many years of sleuthing, scientists believe they have identified the neonicotinoid class of pesticides as the key driver behind colony collapse disorder (2). Unfortunately, these chemicals are widely used to treat crops, which then spread their pesticides with neighboring foliage via runoff (3). Even more unfortunately, it appears that even tiny amounts of neonicotinoids eventually interfere with bees’ ability to orient themselves and navigate away from the hive and back. This may account for the sudden emptying of the hives.

Europe has led global efforts to protect bee colonies and we hope the ideas are catching. As of April of 2018, the E.U. extended their moratorium on some uses of neonicotinoids (4), a boon for environmentalists and bees alike. A bill introduced in the US Congress during 2013, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, would have directed the EPA to take similar measures. Unfortunately, it never came to a vote. Efforts continue around the country and the globe to save this essential element of our natural world.

 

  1. https://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2006/10/25_pollinator.shtml
  2. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/180228
  3. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/neonicotinoid-pesticides-slowly-killing-bees
  4. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/04/european-union-expands-ban-three-neonicotinoid-pesticides
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How To Be A Weekend Water Warrior

The record-breaking drought California experienced reminds us of how dependent we are on the natural world and its resources. Whether you’ve had your garden in the ground for years or you’re in the market for a new one, it’s never too late to dust off your conservation boots and save water. As we move into our Central Coast summer and reflect on winters gone by, consider these easy water-saving/money-saving ideas:

 

  1. Add water recycling like a “laundry to landscape” greywater system.

Laundry is a fact of life, you might as well recoup some of the resources you’re expending. (We can’t help you get your time waiting for the dryer to buzz back unfortunately!)

A line of talk cuts through a mulched back yard, identifying where the downspouted rainwater will be directed

Caution: Downspout rainwater harvesting in progress!

2. Add a rainwater catchment like downspouts channeling seasonal rains directly into the soil where plants can use it.

It may seem like a moot point since the water is already falling from the sky, but any water that’s rushing down the street would be better used sinking into the ground. Large-scale rainwater catchment via cisterns is great, but the low-fi version of routing it into the soil in French drains is also beneficial (and easier on both the wallet and calendar).

3. Keep up on your mulching; don’t let bare lot syndrome happen to you!

Exposed earth contributes to water run-off during our rainy winter months and also erodes your soil. A healthy mulch layer slows rainfall as it reaches the earth; sinks it into the ground at a rate the earth can handle; and spreads it throughout the area, replenishing groundwater reserves. A triple win!

By mimicking natural cycles, sinking water into the ground, and reestablishing aquifers and groundwater saturation we can take advantage of this drought’s silver lining: To learn from patterns that create scarcity and change our habits to create abundance.

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The Sheet-Mulching Legacy

Lava LampWhile we may roll our eyes at some of the regrettable fads of the 70s, one lasting legacy from that era is a heightened environmental awareness. It was during the 1970’s that a pioneering figure in the sustainability movement, Bill Mollison, began teaching the principles the movement that became known as Permaculture. Mollison, in collaboration with David Holmgren, drew on observations of nature and indigenous cultures to formulate an environmental ethic that placed care of natural systems at its center. Their goal became to design ecologically-sound and productive landscapes that would transform the global environment as well as the local community.

Gardens_by_gabriel_sheet_mulching

(photo credit: Pinterest)

One mainstay of Permaculture is a process called sheet-mulching. Sheet-mulching mimics the natural processes of soil formation, which depend on the accumulation and decomposition of organic matter over time. Think forests and woodlands: Under the thick layer of decaying leaves, twigs, and branches lies that earthy, sweet-smelling humus built to feed the trees and plants above.

If time permits in a home garden installation, rather than digging out weeds and disturbing the symbiotic relationship between the soil surface and the underlying micro-organisms, we use sheet-mulching to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, and increase the soil’s nutrient base–simultaneously. We stack thick layers of compost, organic matter, and cardboard over dead grass, water-hungry lawns, and bare patches of neglected earth to create an earthy sandwich, of sorts, that decomposes and becomes a field of healthy soil fit for planting. Humus in the forest takes decades to perfect, but sheet-mulching shortens those years to months. But don’t wait for us! This process is easy to research and can be your own first step in replacing a thirsty lawn with a drought-tolerant landscape.

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Making The Most Of The Rain

morro bay rain gaugeWe’re happy to say that our rain gauge was overwhelmed by our recent storms! No matter what the amount of rain we get this winter, we don’t want a single drop to go to waste. In order to replenish our precious underground aquifers, the rainwater must percolate through the soil rather than running off the surface. And while we cannot make it rain, we can make a difference in the amount of run-off.

Under natural conditions, soil acts like a sponge, soaking up and absorbing much of the rainfall. Vegetation and leaf litter break the momentum of falling raindrops, allowing the water to filter gently through the air spaces between individual bits of soil. When the earth is exposed, parched, and compacted, it’s as if the soil sponge has been squeezed dry. The pores and pockets shrink and close off, and it is more difficult for water to penetrate.

As much as possible, then, we work to direct rainwater into the ground. Mulching in the fall will protect the soil from eroding during our winter rainy period. The mulch slows the velocity and allows the maximum amount of water to collect and soak into the ground. Landscaping with swales and berms also helps intercept run-off and channel water back into the garden instead of into the street. Lengthening the time that the water remains on the land allows it to slowly seep into the ground, rehydrate the soil, and recharge our depleted groundwater basins.

Making the best use of any rain that does fall turns that water into a resource – one that we sorely need.

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“Mowing” The Drought-Tolerant Lawn

carex pruning

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Lawnmowing services exist to give homeowners a break from the tedium of hauling out the mower each week. The hassle, the sweat, the repetition–it seems worth it to shell out a few bucks to skip the mess of grass clippings and go right to the backyard barbecue. But even more convenient than paying someone to deal with your water-hungry lawn could be the brief task of clipping a native crop of Carex grass just once a quarter. 
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Gardens by Gabriel’s demonstration garden features a meadow of two types of Carex: Carex pansa (green) and Carex flacca (blue). Both were planted at the same time and have grown in happily with the help of low-flow drip irrigation. Six months later it was time for their first haircut. While we enjoy the look of a lush, flowering meadow, we like to clip younger grass clumps to encourage them to expand laterally and form a denser carpet. There are choices for how to cut grass, and we landed on hand pruning with a hedge shear because it avoids the need for a gas-powered machine as well as the burned edge left by weed-eating or weed-whipping.photo 2 copy 3photo 4 copy 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As with mowing a lawn, mulching with the clippings is a healthy protocol (and a lot easier than gathering them into the greenwaste bin). We spread ours over the mulch and grasses alike with a metal rake and called it a day.

 

Tools: Shears, rake, funny hat.
Total elapsed time: 20 peaceful minutes on a Spring afternoon.

 

 

 

 

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California Native Plants and the Approach of Summer

san luis obispo native garden California native plants are known for their vibrant winter blooms, but also for their summer dormant season and for this reason are sometimes overlooked for Mediterranean gardens. It is possible to maintain a beautiful and water-wise garden year-round that includes California natives; all it takes is some strategy.

Planning:
When they’re young, California natives can be treated like other plants in a cultivated garden: They need regular watering to establish a healthy root system. As natives grow to maturity at 5-10 years, you have two choices.

1. Embrace Dormancy:
If you water them less and let them go dormant, your plants won’t be as stressed by root rot and fungal outbreaks, and in general will live longer. With that in mind, combine grasses, succulents, shrubs, and trees whose color and texture vary throughout the year. Design your garden with a plant palette diverse enough to feature the seasonal peaks of certain plants while covering for those that take a break.Mediterranean Meadow

2. Irrigate:
Many Mediterranean and California native cultivars are now adapted to well-placed and well-timed summer irrigation. In order to not stress the plants, however (because too much water or nutrition is just as stressful as not having enough), it is important to carefully place and test every drip emitter. Making sure emmiters are spaced out from the plant crown will encourage wide root growth into the native soil, and discourage rot due to stagnant water. With the consistent encouragement of drip irrigation, most native trees and shrubs will dig their roots deep into the soil, find water, and thrive year-round.

Templeton_mediterranean_stonework

As we embark on our passage through Spring and the last months of our unique growing season, enjoy your thriving garden and the natural landscape around us. Take in the lushness of the grasses, enjoy the vibrant colors in the succulents, watch the poppies and other annual flowers express their beautiful colors–and get ready to dial in your irrigation timers!

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Succulent Senecio

Happy coastal growers, Senecio are one of the most forgiving succulents when it comes to propagation. It’s time for us to start a new batch, so we’re going to take you through it step-by-step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to start a new crop, clip the last 5″ of a plant that is doing well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll see that some of the “leaves” are quite close to the cut–these few should be removed. Snap these off and drop them in your compost pile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll be left with a cluster of leaves at the end and a 1.5 inch stalk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you’ve amassed a collection, stack them on your potting bench.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plop the newly-exposed stalks into a receptacle with at least 2″ of soil mix (we combine our home-grown compost with a little pearlite).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water them in, keep them warm and safe, and wait for their roots to grow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Water Conservation Sweeping The Nation!

…Starting with our own KCBX!

Many thanks to Mike Bush of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden who, during his January 25th, 2012, interview on KCBX, mentioned a garden we completed with water conservation champion Mary Wilhelm. We were happy to be able to feature Mary’s garden in an article with the Tolosa Press, highlighting that due to her efforts to reduce her water usage, she hadn’t watered her garden at all during 2011. Take a listen to the SLOBG’s Executive Director as he discusses upcoming SLOBG events, signature qualities of Mediterranean climates, and the future of our inspiring local garden:

Mike Bush SLO Botanical Garden KCBX Interview 

 

 

 

 

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Barrel-Free Rainwater Harvesting in SLO County

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.”

Rainwater harvesting might not be for everyone, but there are still ways to lessen rainwater runoff. We routinely use and recommend Bioswales to remove silt and pollution and slow the water for better ground absorption. A bioswale is the use of mounded earth to create a drainage course, which slows the water’s path and maximizes filtration. Thick layers of mulch and creative uses of earth also can be designed for the water to slowly sink back into the ground. (Ever rough up your nails before you apply that layer of glossy nail polish? Same thing!)

You may be wondering if rainwater harvesting is OK to do in San Luis Obispo County:

“City of San Luis Obispo 2010 Construction and Fire Code Amendments page 25: 1101.2.1 Rainwater Harvesting. Storm water drainage may be directed to an approved rainwater harvesting system and used an al alternate source of water for non-potable uses as approved by the building official and the San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Department. The installation and use of such a system or systems must be designed to not interact with the potable water system, the building sanitary sewer or drainage systems that flow to any creek. Rainwater harvesting systems must be maintained in such a manner as to not cause damage to neighboring properties.”

 

Rainwater Harvesting Around the World:

· Currently in China and Brazil, rooftop rainwater harvesting is being practiced for providing drinking water, domestic water, water for livestock, water for small irrigation and as a way to replenish ground water levels.

· In Tamil Nadu, India, rainwater harvesting was made compulsory for every building to avoid ground water depletion.

· In Bermuda, the law requires all new construction to include rainwater harvesting adequate for the residents.

· In Senegal, the houses of the Diola-people are frequently equipped with homebrew rainwater harvesters made from local, organic materials.

· In the United Kingdom, “water butts” (water casks) are often found in domestic gardens to collect rainwater which is then used to water the garden.

· Until 2009 in Colorado, water rights laws almost completely restricted rainwater harvesting; A property owner who captured rainwater was deemed to be stealing it from those who have rights to take water from the watershed. Now, residential well owners that meet certain criteria may obtain a permit to install a rooftop precipitation collection system.

· In Australia, rainwater harvesting is typically used to supplement the reticulated mains supply.

 


Beyond Rain Barrels

Remember Grandma telling you that washing your hair in rainwater made it softer? If we look back a generation or two to Grandma’s time, almost everyone had a rain barrel. Despite the benefits of collecting the yearly downpour, however, rain barrels in our area often don’t collect enough water to last through our lengthy dry season. 
What to do?
If you have some extra space and are able to invest around $20,000 you can have your very own rainwater harvesting system that’s efficient to water your garden all year long. That’s a lot of output up front, but the savings over time are many, and you’d be doing our water stores a great service! Generally a 5,000 gallon tank is needed to collect enough water for Central Coast climate. Your garden will love rainwater just as your hair would, because it’s free of salts and harmful minerals and doesn’t have to be treated.