How to Completely Change a Weedy Lawn

This weedy lawn had been bothering the homeowners for a long time.  It was a nice lawn when it was first put in, but needed to be maintained often.   As busy professionals, they really did not have the time.  On the other hand, they wanted to be friendly for the environment and have a small footprint.  The lawn, they felt, used too much water.  When they heard of Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Program, that after a turf was converted to water efficient landscaping a rebate would be given to them, they felt the program was just for them.  They could ditch the lawn that took too much work  and used too much water, have brand new landscaping that would use much less, and receive money for doing all this.  They happily got on board.

weedy lawn

Outdoor Lawn Watering: Heavy Water Use

Lawns use a lot of water. According to Ben Erickson,  “While the amount of water needed will vary depending on your climate, the weather, and the time of year; the general rule of thumb is to make sure your lawn receives 1″ of water to your lawn per week during dry conditions.”  So, for a 1000 square feet of lawn, in every week of dry conditions it needs 623 gallons of water, or, 89 gallons a day!

water use for lawn

Imagine 89 gallon water jugs, that is how much water the lawns needs to drink every day.  According to USGS, “Each Californian uses an average of 181 GALLONS of water each day. ”  If we use the number (89 gallons) from the example above, outdoor water use accounts for almost 50% of the overall use.  That is very close to the actual case.  Per “STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032″, “In many areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping.”  In other words, half or more of our water (in the city) is used on outdoor landscaping.  That is a lot of water when you think about it.

Two California Water Bills – SB 606, AB 1668

On May 31,2018, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into effect two water use efficiency bills, SB 606 and AB 1668.   “In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely. We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water”.

Historical California drought from 2012-2016
Historical California drought from 2012-2016

In the bill, a goal is set for indoor use   “Establishing an indoor, per person water use goal of 55 gallons per day until 2025, 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and 50 gallons beginning in 2030.”  If we use 90 gallons as the baseline for today, by 2030, we need to use 44.4% less water than today to meet the goal.

A goal for outdoor will be announced in the near future.  Though we don’t know the actual number yet, we can guess it won’t be  just 1% or 2%.  To achieve that kind of water saving, one of the most effective ways is to replace the lawn with landscaping of drought tolerant plants, which usually can save water by 30-60%.

In addition to the big water saving benefit, there are two advantages that come with it.  After the lawn is gone, the need for mowing is gone too.  While the water wise landscaping still needs to be maintained, the effort required is generally much less than that for lawns.  For busy professionals like the homeowners of this house, it definitely is a great plus.

Another big benefit is the choice of the plants.  Instead of the mono color of green, the drought tolerant plants come in many shapes, colors and textures.  You can choose the ones that sport blossom of red, pink, yellow, purple, white or others of your favorite colors.  That is exactly what the homeowners did for this garden.  They loved flowers and wanted to fill the garden with many of them.

Apply for the Landscape Conversion Rebate

Before the project started, an application was submitted to Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Program.  After they received the application, the water district did an on-site inspection and measured the sizes of the lawns that qualify for conversion and the rebate.  After the visit, they sent out the “Notice to Proceed”, which indicated that project could kick off.

Install the Water Efficient Garden

The project started!  First, all the grasses were removed.

Lawn transformation

Then, a small rain garden was built.

Take full use of rain

Rain water is a valuable source of water.  When it rains, water that falls on the roof and flows from downspouts onto impermeable surfaces like driveways will just run off.  This is a waste of water. A better use is to let it soak into the ground and recharge the ground water.  In the process,  harmful particles can be filtered out before the water go back to the ground water, versus being discharged directly into waterways, harming birds and other aquatic animals there.

This downspout comes directly into the garden, which provides a good opportunity to catch the rain and let it soak down in the garden.

Lawn transformation

A small ditch and depression was dug.   When it rains, rain water from the downspout  will flow to this small depression, and soak into the soil.  The plants in the depresson were picked to stand both wet and dry conditions.

Rain garden

One key component for drought tolerant garden is the drip irrigation.  Compared with overhead spray, it can save water by 15 gallon each time you water.  Since water slowly drips down, there will be much less runoff, and thus, much less water waste.

Rain garden

drip irrigation

To save water, another important equipment to install is the rain sensor.  When it rains, it can detect and send the signal to a smart controller, which will delay the scheduled watering.  In many cities, it is now the law that “no watering 48 hours after measurable rainfall (1/8”)” .  With the rain sensor, this can be done automatically, saving so much time and effort.

Rain sensor

Keep the “good old” plants

When an old garden was to be cleared up, not all the old plants need to go.  The ones that still look good, especially if they are drought tolerant, can possibly be keepers.

This flower bed was full of lavender.  The lavenders were lovely bushes, just that they  were obstructed by the weeds.  Lavender are wonderful low water use plants, bloom for a long time, and attract pollinators like bees.  It was decided to be kept as part of the new garden.

Once the weeds were removed, the flower bed looked beautiful:

Bees love to visit and feed on the blossom:

Receive Landscape Conversion Rebate

The garden is done!  This was before

Weedy lawn

The new garden

Garden

Water Efficient Garden

The water district conducted a post inspection.  The lawn was converted successfully, and qualified for the rebate.  A couple weeks later, the rebate check was received.

With the transformation of the lawn, a significant amount of water will be saved.  Instead of a weedy pad that would need so much care, the owner got this beautiful front yard with her favorite flowers, greeting her every day when she leaves for and comes back from work.  When it rains, the rain water from the roof will flow out to feed the plants and go back to nature.  On top of all these, she received a check.  Why wait?  Start today and plan for a water efficient garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Saving, and More: the Benefits of Drip Irrigation

When we think about installing a garden, often what come to our mind first are the design and plants – which plants to select, where to plant them, and how they will look?  While these are all very important, there is another equally critical aspect – how to keep the plants alive after they are planted?  That points us to – the irrigation system, mainly, the sprinkler and drip.

drip

The 2 systems

For irrigation of a garden, water is piped in.  From the pipe, how to deliver the water to the plants?  these 2 systems are the most common: sprinkler and drip.

Sprinkler is used for most of the lawns.

When the sprinkler system is used, not all the water go to the plants.  Water might evaporate away, especially in hot and windy weather; another scene we might see often is runoff.  The watering time might be too long; or the soil could only absorb so much water .  Runoff is a waste of water that should be avoided.

Sprinkler

Another irrigation system is drip.  It points to the root system of a plant, and distributes water by “dripping” it slowly into the soil.

Drip

The Innovation of Drip Irrigation

Modern drip irrigation was invented in Israel in the 1950s.   According to wikipedia, “a plastic emitter in drip irrigation was developed in Israel by Polish-born Simcha Blass and his son Yeshayahu.  Instead of releasing water through tiny holes easily blocked by tiny particles, water was released through larger and longer passageways by using velocity to slow water inside a plastic emitter. The first experimental system of this type was established in 1959 by Blass who partnered later (1964) with Kibbutz Hatzerim to create an irrigation company called Netafim. Together they developed and patented the first practical surface drip irrigation emitter.”

More than half of Israel’s total land area is a desert, where water is scarce.  Despite of this, Israel has a highly developed agriculture business.  It not only produces enough food for itself, but also is a major exporter for fresh produce.  How did they do it with so little water?   Drip irrigation has been credited as the one innovation that contributed most significantly to this extraordinary achievement.  The method allows water to be used so efficiently that large amount of corp can be grown and harvested with just the level of water in a desert.

Drip used in Israel
By Borisshin [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons]
Benefits of Drip Irrigation

As the example of Israel agriculture indicates, drip irrigation is a water efficient way for farming.  It is also a water efficient way for gardening.    There are some significant benefits of using drip irrigation.

Saves water

According to Save Our Water, compared with  sprinkler,  “drip saves 15 gallons each time you water”.

Water is delivered by “drips” right into the plant’s root area,  with little runoff or evaporation.  Almost all the water delivered is absorbed by the plants, translating to very high watering efficiency.

Runoff from sprinkler
Runoff from a sprinkler irrigation
drip
No runoff from drip

In California, outdoor landscape watering accounts for half of urban water usage.  To save water, it is essential that we use water for outdoor wisely.  Drip is the efficient way for outdoor watering.

On May 31,2018, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into effect SB 606 and AB 1668.   “In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely. We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water”.

In the bill, a water use goal for indoor use is set.  “Establishing an indoor, per person water use goal of 55 gallons per day until 2025, 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and 50 gallons beginning in 2030.”

A goal for outdoor will be announced in the near future.

2 years ago, when California was hit by the historical drought, Gov. Brown announced a mandatory 25% cut for the urban water use.  The mandate was lifted when the drought ended.  However, from that drought people come to realize how unpredictable the water situation can be, and how precious the water resource is.  With the 2 bills signed, water conservation becomes permanent in California, not just an one-off effort.

In many cities, runoff from irrigation is prohibited legally.  See the regulation in Santa Barbara:

“Irrigation with potable water that causes runoff onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots, or parking structures is prohibited. Any excessive, unnecessary or unwarranted use of water is prohibited. All leaks must be repaired as soon as reasonably possible.”

It is very clear that we must use water wisely and efficiently in our daily lives.  For outdoor use, switching from lawn and sprinkler to drip irrigation is one of important steps we can take, among all other measures.

Part of the Rebate program

Many water districts and companies offer turf conversion rebate programs.  For a post-conversion landscape to qualify for the rebate, drip irrigation must be installed.  Drip equipment may also qualify for rebates.  This is what was specified in the Program Requirements for one such rebate program , Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Rebate Program:

“Irrigation systems, if used within the converted area, must be low volume drip, micro-spray, or bubbler. The system must be in good working order, free of leaks and malfunctions. Once installed, the irrigation system must not create run-off, overspray, or misting.”

See more details of the program here.

Works great with mulch

Chips in the mulch can be carried away by the spraying water from a sprinkler, which can expose the soil beneath and accelerate evaporation.  With drip irrigation, as water will drip down slowly into the soil, it will not move the chips and mulch can stay for a long time.

In addition, when drip is used, much less water will be distributed on weeds compared with sprinkler.  The precise positioning of drips means water is provided only to the plants, not to any others like weeds.  This will prevent or slow the growth of weeds.

Saves time and effort

An automatic controller can be installed along with drip irrigation, so all the watering can be done automatically.  With at least one emitter for one plant, all the plants will receive the water they need.  Very little manual work will be required if all are set up correctly.

Installing Drip Irrigation

While drip irrigation can conserve water really well and saves time and effort, it requires advanced planning.  Here are the major steps of installing drip irrigation for a new garden.

  • Have a garden design and positions for each of the plants.
  •  After the yard is prepared, lay out the plants at where they are supposed to be according to the plan.

garden

  • Lay the pipes, install drip emitter for every plant.

garden 2

  • Cover the pipes and the surface of the garden with soil and mulch.  None of the pipes are visible now, only the beautiful plants!

garden 3

Weather-Based Irrigation Controller and Rain Sensor

An automatic controller can be installed to automate the drip watering. The length and frequency of each watering can easily be entered from the touch pad of the controller.

To further conserve water, a rain sensor can be connected to a smart  irrigation controller.  When it rains, the information will be transmitted to the controller, which will then delay the next watering scheduled, avoiding the waste of the water.

rain sensor

Some controllers have mobile phone apps that work with them.  After you download the app, you can view information or operate the controller from your phone, anywhere you go.

watering app

Gardens grew well with drip irrigation

Now we know drip irrigation can save water, how do they work for the plants?  Do they grow well with such drip method?

The answer is positive.  For the garden illustrated above, this was how it looked after the installation was done:

garden

After just half year, plants grew big, a lot of them bloomed:

Water Efficient Garden

This was how a plant was like when it was first planted, a drip was installed for it:

plant 1

After half year:

plant 2

After a year and half:

plant 3

This is another garden that was irrigated with just drip irrigation.  This was when it was installed:

garden

After just a year:

water efficient garden

This Lion’s Tail grew from a small plant to a big bush in less than a year with the drip irrigation.  Hummingbirds love its flowers!

plant

hummingbird

In summary, drip irrigation can allow us to use water wisely for outdoor landscaping.  Not only can we save water, plants can also grow well.  If installed together with a smart controller and rain sensor, it can save even more water.  Plant some drought tolerant plants, and install drip irrigation.  We can have a beautiful garden with just a little water!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Attract Pollinator to Your Yard in 3 Steps

A golden monarch butterfly stopping on a bush, a hummingbird sucking from a flower…a view that everyone would love to see.  The good news is, we can turn a yard into a pollinator friendly garden and enjoy such a view often.   Pollinators play a vital role for the eco-system, and for us humans, yet their populations have experienced dramatic decline in the last 20 years.  We can do something now to help slow or stop the decline.  Here, by looking at the garden as an example, we can show that in 3 steps, a space without any pollinator can become one full of it within just 2 years.

Step 1: shrink down or remove the lawn

After the historic drought in California 2 years ago, this lawn turned completely brown.  The house owner wanted to get rid of the eye sore  and have something beautiful.  They wanted a garden with  lots flowers, a garden that would bloom year round.  When they heard that such a conversion would also allow them to receive the Landscape Conversion Rebate, they decided to take on the project.

To replace a lawn makes sense, as it needs a lot of water.  A converted landscape can save water by 30-80%.   in addition, a lawn does not have the different colors and flowers that pollinators need, so it can hardly be a habitat.

Step 2: Put in plants that sport bright blossom

During the design process, plants were carefully selected to have bright blossom, and would bloom for a long time.   Luckily, many of the drought tolerant plants meeting the requirements of the rebate program can fit the bill very well.  There were a lot to choose from.  Plants like Statice, Cherry Sage, Cone Flower, Lion’s Tail were all good candidates.

The project started, very quickly a floral garden was installed.

Step 3: Wait for the blossom, and pollinators follow

The plants grew quickly.  After just a couple months, in early spring, some plants already grew to a point where they bloomed.

After just a year, the garden was in full bloom.  A dream was fulfilled:

pollinator friendly garden

Sure enough, some small visitors came.:

bees on flower

Sage 2

monarch butterfly

This humming bird really craved the flower.  It worked on every single petal:

hummingbird

hummingbird

In just 3 steps ,  a little a space without any pollinator became this magnet that attracted all types and many of them.

Another garden: same transformation

This garden also went from a lawn without pollinator to one with a lot.  The garden was designed to be a California native plants garden, so more native plants were chosen.

 

One of the plant selected was Matilijia Poppy.  This is a big California native, once a contender for the California state flower.  This is how it looks like in the field:

Planted in the garden:

M Poppy

In the first summer after planting, it grew its first flower:

M Poppy

After another year,  it grew into this full bush with its big white flowers.   M Poppy

Sure enough, bees came to visit:

M Poppy

Another California native chosen was the California Golden Poppy, also favorite for the bees:

G Poppy

At the end of summer, even though most of the poppies already faded, the bee still wanted to have what was out there:

G Poppy

Both gardens showed to us, that by replacing  lawns with landscapes of nectar plants, the pollinators would love them and come.  We could provide a habitat to them from our own yards.

A serious issue – decline of pollinators

Pollinators play a critical role for the eco system in nature, and for us humans.

When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into seeds and fruits.   The seeds allow the next generations of the plants to grow, thus ensuring a bio system to continue and thrive.

For agriculture, bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops.  According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops.

Unfortunately, in the last 2 decades, the pollinators of bee, butterfly and hummingbird all experience rather significant decline, some species go as far as to the brink of extinction.  The culprit?  while the scientists are still exploring, the widespread use of pesticide, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat all count as remarkable reasons.

Bee

According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):

  • “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”

The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by almost 90% since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017.  It became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species.

In this article “Why are bees declining“, the big reasons for the decline are described as:

“Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation – Homelessness; General declines in wildflowers within the landscape – Hunger, Pests and disease – Sickness, Agrochemicals – Poisoning, Climate change – Changing environment”

Humming Bird

According to Ellen Paul, “the annual breeding bird survey shows that between 1966 and 2013, the rufous population on the Pacific Coast dropped an average of 2.67 per cent per year. ”  Pesticide was thought to be one possible factor for the decline, with a research going on right now to find out;  Climate change, and loss of habitat that comes with it, can be another big one.  According to Climate Central:

“the warming temperatures make it harder for these birds to eat, rest, and even reproduce… Rather than search for food in the increasingly hotter summers, some hummingbirds simply seek shade to remain cool. They are also less social during the hotter weather, suggesting they are not as likely to mate.

Suitable habitats for hummingbirds are also starting to shrink as the climate changes. Spring blooms are occurring earlier in the year, affecting the timing between blooming plants and hummingbirds’ return from their tropical winter retreat. This can leave the flowering blooms without their necessary pollinators, and at the same time birds have less food, which puts both plants and animals at risk.”

Monarch Butterfly

The most alarming decline comes from monarch butterfly.  According to David Mizejewski on EcoWatch, “populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the United States–both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults- through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs’ overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.”

One of the most effective conversion measures, that we can do,  is to build more habitats for the pollinators.  It can be in our front and back yards, or on the campus of a company or school.

Big tech putting native plants on their campuses

In the last several years, big high tech companies in the Silicon Valley  planted native plants around their campuses and transformed them into spaces friendly for pollinators.

Apple

At Apple’s iconic spaceship campus, the 3 acres space is filled by 9000 trees, California native and other drought tolerant plants.

Spaceship

 

native plants

The native plants that were planted just a year ago on the campus, are already serving the hungry bees the food they love.

native plants

bee

Google

At Google’s Mountain View headquarter, most of the planting areas are also filled with California native and drought tolerant plants.  Here the California native buckwheat is blooming in the heat of summer.

native plants

The bee is busy feeding on nectar

bee

Here is a parking lot on the campus.  A butterfly is working on the California native Cleveland Sage planted in the garden next to the parking lot.

 

butterfly

More plants, more pollinators

native plants

 

native plants

While we don’t have a huge yard like these, when we all put a couple native plants and other nectar plants in our garden, together they can make up this habitat that the pollinators badly need for their survival and thrive.  Let’s act today and build a garden friendly for pollinator.

 

 

 

 

 

A Race for Saving Water

On Apr 14, 2018,   I participated the Great Race for Saving Water in Palo Alto.  This is the fifth Earth Day celebration hosted by city of Palo Alto.  It is a 5K run/walk and kids 1K fun run to “raise awareness about water resources, conservation and environmental health”.

Great Race for Saving Water

Great Race for Saving Water 2

The race would start at 9am.  From the early morning,  people started streaming into the start venue, Palo Alto Baylands Athletic Center.  Once there, a lot of exciting things were already waiting.

A water truck – H2O On the Go

You have seen food trucks, but have you seen a water truck?  One of the first thing that would catch anyone’s eyes  was a water truck, Santa Clara Water District’s “H2O to Go”.

As Santa Clara Water District describes on the truck’s website, “Standing 11 feet tall, the water dispenser-on-wheels holds approximately 500 gallons of chilled tap water; about enough to fill 8,000 servings in 8-ounce cups. Under a roll-out canopy on each side, residents can fill up at any of the vehicle’s 14 dispensers, seven on each side. The cold, refreshing water is from the district’s water treatment plants, which supply Santa Clara County with clean, safe and high-quality water. Water from our treatment plants consistently meets or exceeds all state and federal regulations, which continually grow more stringent. Drinking tap water also helps to protect the environment. With enough water to replace almost 4,000 water bottles, the water truck can save the earth from 105 pounds of plastic waste”.

water truck

There are so many benefits drinking from tap like these in the truck versus bottle.  A big portion of bottled water actually is just tap water;  while the tap water costs consumer almost nothing ($0.004/gallon), bottled water costs 300 times more, at $1.22/gallon.   Despite all these, the bottled water consumption has increased tremendously in the last several decades.  Per capita consumption increased 3 fold from 9.8 gallons per person annually in 1991 to 30.8 in 2012.

One huge issue stemming from this massive consumption is pollution.  Globally, humans buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute; however, 91% of the plastic is not recycled.  A huge number of plastic bottles end up in landfill, and a big part of them go into ocean.   According to Ocean Conservancy, plastics are believed to threaten at least 600 different wildlife species90% of seabirds are now eating plastics on a regular basis; by 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 100%; At that time, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.   To manage the issue, Europe is planning to ban 10 single use plastic items that make up for 70% of all litter in EU waters and on beaches.  While we all need to drink water, we definitely do not need more plastic bottles.

Everyone would enjoy some cold, refreshing water, especially after running at a race.  Before the water truck,  water supplied to thirsty runners at a race like this would be just boxes after boxes of bottles.  As there are over 30,000 organized races and close to 17 million race finishers in the US a year, suppose one runner at least consumes 1 bottle, the races in US alone will generate 17 million bottles, with a big portion of that ending in landfill and oceans!  The Great Race was estimated to be attended by 1000 people.  By providing a water truck, the race organizer and Santa Clara Water District removed at least 1K bottles from this event.  Kudos to them for quenching the thirst for the runners, and doing a great thing for the environment!

Here, no bottle was found at the bins:

A leaky toilet

At 9am, the race started.  In the race, one could not help but notice something that was rather unusual  – a running “leaky toilet”; to be more concise, someone who was wearing a costume of a toilet.  Why a toilet?  Well, it carried a rather big message about water.

According to Peninsula Press, “Leaky toilets are just one source of common water wastage in home, since one out of five homes may have a toilet in any given year, according to Ora Chaiken from WaterSmart Software. She reprised her role as the “running toilet”, which participants tried to catch during the 5k and 1k fun runs.”

Leaks are a big source of water waste.  Up to 50% of households will experience some kind of water leak in a given year;  according to EPA,  household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. enough for more than 11 million homes’ annual water use!  As water leaks can waste so much water, we should do everything we can to prevent and fix it immediately when it happens.

We all understand the importance of using high water efficiency products, like the high efficiency toilet shown here, to save water. However,  if leaks happen, any  savings can be wiped out, and more.  It is good that we use these products, like the toilet, or water efficient irrigation such as drip ; equally important though, is that we can prevent, detect and fix any leaks quickly when they happen.

leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Plant a garden with native plants

There were quite a few partner booths and activities at the festival.  Here, a landscape designer was giving a presentation about landscaping with California native plants.  Compared with a lawn, a garden with drought tolerant and native plants can save water significantly.  In addition, these plants can provide habitat for pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies, providing rich biodiversity and supporting a healthy eco system, which a lawn can not.  A garden can also add so much color and textures to the space, making it attractive and adding the curb appeal for the house.

Outdoor landscaping accounts for half of the urban water use in California, which is a lot.  To save water, replacing a lawn with a water efficient gardens is one of the most effective ways.  Plant some wild flowers, save water and help out the bees and birds.  They will surely be grateful!

wild flower presentation
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Kids Played a Big Part

When one came to the festival, they would find this sure was an event not just for adults, but also for kids.  There were kids everywhere, from little babies to teenagers; There was an 1K fun run just for kids.  For a kid,  there were so many fun things to look and do.  The smokey bear!  The eagle!

Smokey bear
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Eagle
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

With global warming, pollution and other environmental issues, our globe is facing some serious challenges, which will just become more serious if not managed well.  This makes it really important for kids to be involved early, to become educated in the topics about earth, environment and sustainability.

When today’s kids grow up, they will inherit the earth with all the issues and challenges; what they learn now can prepare them for the challenges then; furthermore, if they understand the importance today, they can join join adults and do something to prevent, reduce or slow down the impact of these issues.  For example, our water supply from snowpack might decline by 60% in just 20 years.  Facing such a future, kids should learn today how precious our wate is, and what they can do now to conserve water.  By chasing the “leaky toilet”, they will understand the significance of preventing water losses like leaks.  When they grow up, in a world that will have less stable water supply than today, they will fully appreciate the value of water and try to come up with ways to use it well. Out of the many things they will do,  they might design a better toilet that have less leaks, and save more water.

Kids chasing leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
#1 kid
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Win at the race

Well, beyond all the fun activities, this still was a race.  I was just planning to have a good time and did not prepare anything special for the race.  After the race started, I dashed through the 5K.  When they announced the winner for each age group, to my happy surprise, I won 1st place in my age group.

Luckily, in our long race towards a clean and sustainable earth, not just one person, or a group, a country, or one generation  can be the winner.  All of us can.  If we come together and work together, if we bring our kids along, we will all win in the end.   The sky will still be blue, water still be clean in the next generation, and the next.

The Great Race for Saving Water has been a very fun and educational event, blending in sports, games, plants, animals and many more to give everyone an abundant dose of fun and information.  It is truly a Great Race for Saving Water.

race finish
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

Turn an Empty School Lot Into a Veggie Garden

On a beautiful April morning, on the campus of an elementary school in the Silicon Valley, just after the school start time, while the whole school went from the hustle and buzz accompanying drop off into a total quietness, at this corner, however, happy chatters and bursts of laughs could be heard some distance away.  Getting closer, one could see it was a class of 4th grade kids going to start on a veggie garden.

They were all very excited.  It was not their first time they did something related to a garden though – they did it before, kind of.

Start small

2 years ago, when California was still in the historic 5-year drought, in response to the call of conserving water, the school reduced the watering for its garden.   Like so many gardens across the area at that time, a big part of it went barren.  After the drought was over, though it was with a good reason, the garden could be improved.

Finally a proposal was made, “Let’s do something!”  It happened that at the time the kids at 3rd grade were learning about water and water conservation as part of the curriculum.  Why not let the kids be involved in the garden?  After all, after the project was to be finished, they would see it the most; and, this would be great education for gardening, and water it would take.

So the kids had a very different class on an afternoon, a discussion about the garden, and water.  What could we do about the garden?  What requirements must it meet?  Why is water so valuable?  To conserve water, what can we do?   Then came the fun part.  The kids were shown some of the plants, and they got to pick the ones they liked for the garden.  When they saw how the plants were like, they all got psyched up. “I like this one!”  “I like that one, I saw it on my hike!” “This one!” “No, that one!” “This one is like – I will just name it Medusa’s Hair!”

After half hour of shouts, exchanges and laughter, the plants were decided on.  The list was sent to the principle, and the garden was planted.

By next spring, the garden bloomed:

Another year went by, by spring, the garden has completely been filled in.  It was lovely, all plants were blooming in the spring breeze. From time to time, parents and kids could be spotted pausing to take in the view before hurrying away into a busy day.

The 3rd grade kids are now in their 4th grade, and they were assigned another research project for water conservation.   Another class discussion about water was held; at the end, everyone went out to take a look at the garden, something that they discussed and designed a year ago.  Once in in front of the garden, kids all got excited.  They asked about the names of the plants, remembering what they commented back then, shouted, laughing.

When everyone was just looking and chatting, some kids and teacher saw this plot of empty land next by, and wondered: “Can we put some there too?  It will look nicer.”

Definitely.  Actually, it can be a veggie garden!

Benefits of a school veggie garden

Kids can get so much out from building and growing a veggie garden.

Improve understanding of science – The gardening process involves a lot of STEM knowledge.  To plan for a garden, the first step is to find out its size.  To that end, one needs to measure, and calculate – that is math right there.  For plants to grow well, it needs good combination of water, sun and soil.  That is botany.  What is in the soil?  How to make it fertile? Chemistry.  In a garden, these subjects are not just some dry concepts in the book, but something kids need to apply to tackle problems in the real world.

Team work and communication – it is a team effort, from designing, planting to caring for the plants.  In the process, kids need to communicate, coordinate, do their own parts well, and come together to deliver a wonderful garden.  As the process usually takes several weeks to months, it provides ample opportunities for team-building.

Connection to nature, and food  – nowadays a typical day for a kid is filled with books, homework and screen times of mobile phones and computers.  There has been less and less outdoor time.  When they are eating, very few would know how all the food are like when they were grown on a farm.  By growing their own veggies, kids get to see the nature up close, and see how the veggies are before they become their food.   That can be a rich and rewarding experience.

Value the food, eat healthy  According to State of Obesity, “The latest data show that the national childhood obesity rate among 2- to 19-year-olds is 18.5 percent.” In other words, almost one in every 5 children are obese today.  That is an alarmingly high number.  While there are many ways to tackle the problem, one of the ways is to let  kids eat healthier, both quantitatively and qualitatively.  By growing their own veggie, kids will come to value their food much more, eat the healthy portion, and more likely to enjoy their  veggies.

Planting Day

Just like last time, kids played a big role in designing the garden and deciding on the veggies to plant.  Once the design was done, the project went underway.  Veggie beds were built, soil added, seedlings were purchased.  All was ready for the planting day!

After some instructions were given to the kids, the planting started!  Spinach, chard, tomato, strawberry, basil… very soon all the seedlings were planted.

A science teacher brought a box of the worms, kids just scooped them up and put in the soil.  They loved the worms!

Then they helped put some plants in an empty area around the veggie beds, which were all drought tolerant, and would have blossom that attract bees and butterflies.  With these plants, the space will not only look more appealing, but also attract the pollinators that can help the veggies.

All all the seedlings were planted, kids found the plant labels and put them next to each of the plant.  They wanted to learn about the plant names, and wanted the labels there for future reference.

Finally all was done!  Everyone were very happy with the beautiful new garden.  All it takes now is the time for the veggies to grow, and some care and watering.  Now the kids can sit back a little, watch the veggies grow, and wait for the harvest time!

Before

Now

(Below is added  5 weeks after planting)

First Harvest

In the weeks since planting, the veggies have all grown well, and grown up.

Two weeks later:

5 weeks later:

The end of school year was fast approaching.  A party would be held to celebrate.  Any idea for food at the party?

Harvest time!

While the tomatoes have not come yet, the lettuce ad chard were big enough for harvest.  After they tasted it, kids said: “Yum!”

When they were asked to write down the best memories from the last school year, all kids wrote about the garden.  One kid said, ” “It was nice to see our work come to fruition”  Another: “I love seeing the garden every day as I walk and leave school”.  And this one: “”I am so proud of making our school beautiful and leaving a part of me here, forever”.  Veggie garden not only gave kids some salad, but an experience that they cherish and love.

 

 

 

Great Makeover Story: From Barren to Beauty (1)

This story is about an amazing transformation from barren to beauty.

When the owners moved into the house, the first thing they wanted to change was the front and back yards.  It was barren, utterly unattractive.  The main part of the front yard was this hard surface covered with sand.  It had been used as a parking space for years.  The backyard had the similar hard sandy surface as the path, with a big bush of catti plants in the middle.  When it was windy, the sands from the surfaces would be blown up and hit everything around: people, dogs, kids.  It could be messy.

Barren old front yard

Old Back Yard

The owner wanted beautiful landscapes for their yards; meanwhile, they also wanted something that is environmentally friendly, that would not use a lot of water.  To be “good” to the environment was important for them.  They wanted to be efficient for all natural resources, keeping the footprint on environment as small as possible.

Addressing the challenges of building a garden

When one looked at the front yard, the challenges for building a garden was obvious.  A big lot.  Hard surface. No top soil.  And, on a slope.  For plants to grow well, at the minimum, they would need water and soil.  How would these be addressed?

Capture and reuse rain Water

When one checked on the site, they would see two downspouts, one on each side of the house, come right down to the lot.   They pointed to hard surface, which would just let the rainwater runoff.   That is quite a waste.   Rainwater is an excellent resource of water, which can be used to water plants.   To capture and reuse rain water, one can use a rain barrel, or build a rain garden.  As the the front yard is on a slope where rain water would flow down naturally, a rain garden built close to the bottom of the slope could capture the rain water and reuse it well.

Downspout 1
Downspout 1
Downspout 2
Downspout 2

When it doesn’t rain, plants still need water to establish and grow.  For irrigation of a water efficient garden, drip irrigation is the way to go.  It can point to the root area for each plant precisely, so water can get to where it is needed exactly, without mass runoff.  Compared with a sprinkler system, drip can save water by 30-60%.

Select hardy and drought tolerant plants

As the soil under the surface is very hard from years of being used as a parking lot, it was not the best soil for many plants.  Ideally, the soil could be improved with materials such as compost and organic matters over a longer period of time; however, the option was not  available due to the time limit of the project.  This made the selection of plants especially important.

Many native  and other plants are adapted to California’s soil system and can thrive in all kinds of soils.  They can be hardy for tough environments, and need little water once established.  They also have other benefits.  A lot of them produce blossom that are good food for pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds, supporting a vibrant Eco system.

California Native Plant

Repurpose of the existing plants

For the design of the back yard, it was decided that the bush of cactus plants would go; the space would be emptied for other uses.  The catti plants thrived well in the micro system around the house, making them a a good bet for the soil conditions in the front yard.  Instead of discarding them, the catti would be reused for front yard.

Catti Bush

Building the garden

After the design of the garden was finished, the project entered installment.

Installing a rain garden

There are several parts to this.  First, proper discharge of rain water from the down spout.  Instead of letting the rainwater just go down to the ground and run off, the water would be drained into the garden.  Ditches were dug, pipes were connected.   Two  channels were also dug from the end of the pipes to the rain garden.  When it rains, rain water would be discharged out of the pipes, into the channel, then flow into the rain garden.

Pipe 1

Pipe 2

Stream 1

Stream 2

Then an area was dug for the rain garden.   The shape of the rain garden usually is round or curvy, to reduce the force of runoff and effect of erosion.

After that, plants were put into the rain garden.  There are some special requirements for such plants.  Specifically, they should be able to stand both wet and dry conditions well.  Better yet, they can add color and texture to the garden, making the garden look even more attractive.

Lastly, the whole area of the channels and rain garden were filled with pebble stones.  Once the stones were added, two “streams” and a “pond” came into life.  When it rains, all the roof’s rain water would flow into the stream,  out to the pond, seep through the pebbles, water the plants, then percolate deep down and recharge ground water, an act badly needed for our environment.

Rain Garden 1

Rain Garden 2

In big cities where surfaces like concrete is prevalent, only 5% of rain water can infiltrate deep into the soil, depriving groundwater the opportunity of being recharged.  Areas like rain garden can change that and let as much as 25% of rain water go deep under.  Recharging groundwater  is very important for keeping a healthy water system and providing backup when drought hits.

Impervious Cover

A lovely catti Area

Catti plants are favorites for many people!  They come in all kinds of shapes, colors and forms, some of them sporting splendid and beautiful flowers.  They are very drought tolerant, needing only very little water once they are established.  Catti plants can fill out a full garden, or can be integrated as part of a bigger garden, just like what was being done here.  Here they fill out the long stripe along the driveway, offering something wonderful to see and enjoy when one comes home.

Catti Plant 1

Catti Plant 2

A magnet for bees  and birds

Plants with splendid blossom provide the food that bees, birds and other pollinators depend on.  As bees’ population has been on a decline,  it is even more important that we provide places where these small creatures can feed on and take a good break.  Compared with a lawn which does not provide any food or shelter, gardens with drought tolerant and native plants can become a paradise for bees and birds.

Here, this plant was planted in a row along the pathway.  When it blooms, it has this bright beautiful blossom that is hard to miss.  It is not just us who love them,  bees and birds crave them too!

Plant for Bee

Bee

Parking Strip not to be ignored

Compared with the main garden, quite often, parking strips are “after thoughts” since they are a bit small.  However, in quite some cases they still have sizable spaces, and are an important part of the front space.  They can also be filled with the drought tolerant plants and native plants, adding to the curb appeal, and food for bees and birds.

Parking Strip 1

Adding Mulch

After the garden is finished, an important step is to cover the whole surface with mulch.  There are several benefits of this.  First, they can significantly slow down water evaporation, keep soil moist longer so reduce water required for the plants.  They can also suppress the growth of weeds, further reducing water usage.  Third, organic mulch like this made from bark can disintegrate into the soil over time, adding to the organic matters in the soil, improving soil quality and water retention capability.  Aesthetically, they provide this backdrop for all the foliage and blossom, making the space look even more appealing.

A brand new garden

Tieing all the elements together…the new garden was born!  The space has dramatically changed.  Here was how it was like:

Old Yard

And the new garden:

A rain garden doing well in rain

Shortly after the garden was finished, several storms hit the area.  How did the garden do in the rain?

All came out to be good!  Water flew into the stream and pond as designed; plants enjoyed the rain and grew well.

Off the garden, water that came down from impervious surfaces like driveway pooled into runoff, which would flow out to a sewer and empty into the streams and rivers.  There were lots of pollutants in the runoff which would hurt the animals living in the waters, and pollute the broader water system.  That is why we should limit the areas with impervious cover and try to build more rain gardens, like the one shown here.

With a design of native and drought tolerant plants, the front space of this residence has been completely transformed.  Not only has it gone from utterly unattractive to beautiful, but also become  a wonderful place for bees, birds and butterflies.   As the plants are drought tolerant, only a little water will be needed after the plants are established.  Low water use, beautiful, great for the bees – water efficient gardens can add so much charm for your space!

Bees love them, they are planted heavily around the Apple campus

Last year, 5 years after Apple’s legendary co-founder Steve Jobs unveiled the “spaceship” design for the new Apple campus, the project finally finished and the new campus started its use.  While the huge spaceship is undoubtedly the most striking element of the campus, there is another equally important yet less known feature.

It is this massive amount of plants planted on the campus, which fills out the 3 acre space – 9000 trees, and countless California native and other drought tolerant plants.

It is not something that just happened that way – it is by design.  When Steve Jobs was planning the campus, from the very beginning he was very adamant that it should just be like what Silicon Valley was  before the digital transformation.  As Steven Levy of Backchannel said,  Jobs “wanted to create a microcosm of Silicon Valley, a landscape reenactment of the days when the cradle of digital disruption had more fruit trees than engineers. In one sense, the building would be an ecological preservation project; in another sense, it’d be a roman a clef written in soil, bark, and blossom.”  Today the campus fulfills that vision.  Inside and outside, the space is fully filled with trees and shrubs, many of them California natives.

A plant that grow in abundance on the campus is California Lilac.  On an early morning in March, a stroll along the campus could find that some of the lilacs grew to be big bushes already in less than one year’s time.   They are blooming, with massive bright blue blossom.

Native plants around Apple campus

Native plants around Apple campus 2

Close up, you will see some small creatures busy at work.

A bee on a lilac

A bee on a lilac 2

Bees at work

The bees were busy collecting pollens, which is their food.  Look at the two small yellow balls – they sure have collected quite a bit of pollen!

When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into fruits. As most flowers need pollination to grow into fruits, without these small creatures, we can’t enjoy a lot of the fruits we are so accustomed to having every day.

Look around us – from the apple we ate in the morning, to the jeans we wear (cotton), and blueberries we snacked on in the afternoon, they all have bees to thank for.  Bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops.  According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops!

A bee on a lilac 3

Bees on a decline

Unfortunately, in the last several decades, bees have been on a decline. According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):

  • “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”

For one of the wild bees, the rusty patched bumble bee, its population has declined by so much (almost 90%) since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017.  The bee became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species.

Why such decline?  In the same study, the author indicated that “A primary driver of these declines is agricultural intensification, which includes habitat destruction and pesticide use. Other major threats are climate change and urbanization.”

Loss of habitat is one of the top reasons for loss of bees, which makes total sense.  The bees have been feeding on the plants in their native land for hundreds of thousands of years; when the habitats are lost to farming or industrialization, the plants are gone, so are the bees.

Native plants for bees

Bees need flowers’ nectar and pollen for their food; they especially like those from native plants, which is something that they have been feeding on for hundreds of thousands of years.  The California Lilac seen here at the Apple campus, is a big California native, and a favorite for bees with its dense blue blossom.  Lilac can bloom from late spring to summer, providing a good 4-5 months of food to the bees.

Another big native plant, the state flower, California Golden Poppy, also attract bees when they bloom.

Golden poppy on a field

Golden Poppy

Seaside Daisy, and Yarrow, heavily planted around the Apple campus, are two other natives that bees love.

Seaside Daisy

Apple Park 3

Plant more natives, restore the habitat

As bees play such a critical role for the ecosystem we live in, and for our food and agriculture business, we should do everything we can to provide them a good environment, putting them back onto a path for healthy growth. One critical step to achieve this is plant more native and other pollinator friendly plants.

Apple has done this by planting massive amounts of native plants on its campus; Many city parks and nature reserves also use their vast spaces for the purpose.  Here you can see California Lilac in a city park and a nature reserve in the San Francisco Bay area.  These are all great examples, but we can do more.

Lilac in a park
California Lilac in a city park
California Lilac in a nature reserve. See the bees on the blue blossom

In the last several decades, lawns have become the dominate landscapes for most single family residences in the country. People now realize, lawns not only consume a lot of water – over half of the water is used for outdoor watering in California, but also contribute to the loss of habitats for bees and other pollinators.  The stretch after stretch of green provides hardly any food or shelter for the bees.

By replacing lawns with native and other bee friendly plants, we can gradually put back the habitats that were lost, piece by piece.  We can help restore the habitats, starting from our own house.

The owner of this place wanted to replace their back yard with something much more attractive.  They decided to put in drought tolerant landscapes, and applied for Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Rebate Program.  During the project, when they saw a lilac, they wanted it for their garden right away.  The project was finished quickly and they received the rebate promptly.  Now, they can enjoy the lovely garden, and the striking beauty the lilac provides.  Bees surely will love the new lilac too!

This garden is filled with California natives.  It was installed in fall, by next spring the bloom was already full on, with bees busy feasting on the Golden Poppy, Buckwheat and Matilijia Poppy. On a day in summer, while the poppy was already near its end of the bloom, a bee could still be seen working on it.

A garden with native plants

By putting in a garden with lots of California natives and other drought tolerant plants, not only can you save a lot of water, but provide a habitat for the bees and other pollinators, which in turn can help build a more sustainable environment.   Spring is a great time for planting.  Start today, and see native plants’ bloom and bees tomorrow!

Capture Every Raindrop In Your Garden

After a long dry winter rains finally came!  For three days the rains just came down heavily.  This garden was completed right before the rains. During the rain, raindrops can be seen coming down from the two down spouts, going right into the the soil of the garden.  The plants waved gently in the rain, as if saying: “Thank you!”

Water Efficient Garden in rain

downspout in rain

Before – brown lawns

The owner has been at this place for some time.  Ever since he moved here, he had not done anything to the front and back yards.  The lawns went brown during the drought, looking quite barren.   Even after the very wet year of 2017, they did not come back.  Finally, when the owner heard about the Santa Clara Landscape Rebate Program in his city, he decided it was the time to start doing something.

He wanted to build a garden that will meet all the requirements of the rebate program.  After he did some searches online, he found the website of Water Efficient Garden, where he got exactly the information he needed.

Brown Lawn

In the backyard  there is an olive tree.  It is a large tree with lots of black olives lying on the ground.

Olive tree

Designing the Garden

The owner wanted to have a simple and easy conversion which would meet all the requirements of the Rebate Program.  Luckily, there are  a large number of attractive drought tolerant plants to choose from.  When selected carefully, even just with a few, the plants can make an elegant and water efficient garden.

In Mediterranean areas like Spain where the olive trees originate from, the tree can be seen everywhere: in the open fields, at the hill tops, etc.  There, lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean natives also grow in abundance.  They are well adapted to the climate there, very drought tolerant, yet with attractive flowers and aroma.

California shares the same Mediterranean climate, so these plants also do well here.  For the backyard design, it was decided some of these plants will be used, keeping the Mediterranean vibe alive.

Olive tree in Spain
An olive tree on top of a hill at Barcelona
Capture every drop in the garden

The front yard sits next to the side of the house, with thick bushes almost completely blocking out the wall.  When the project started, the grasses were removed, the bushes cut, exposing the wall.   On it there are two down spouts, pointing to the yard below (only one is shown in this photo).  So, when it rains, all the rainwater from the roof will go into the yard, not driveway or other impervious surfaces, which is excellent.

After the historical drought that ended just last year,  people all realize now how valuable water really is.  With population increase and climate change, our demand for water will only increase.  On the other hand, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack will “very likely” shrink  by 30% in the next 20 years, the supply will decrease.  How can we have enough water to meet our demand?

A big chunk of water do come to us every year, but in the past we send a large part of it away right away – the rain water.  Rainwater is not a waste, but a very valuable resource of water.   Steven Moore, a member of the State Water Resources Control Board, said, “Stormwater could be a significant addition to California’s water supply. Los Angeles estimates that rainfall could provide nearly half a million acre-feet (620 million cubic meters) per year. Stormwater could make a difference, it could see us through seven years of drought instead of five.”

If the rain water is directed to impervious surfaces like driveway, the water will just become runoff and be sent right away, which is a waste for this valuable water resource.   In places with natural ground cover, 50% of the rain water can go back in the soil.  In urban areas where a big chunk of surfaces are impervious,  only about 15% of water goes back.  Specifically, only 5% of the water infiltrates deep down, versus 25% with natural ground cover, which seriously deprives the ground from water recharging that is badly needed.

So, when it rains, we should direct as much water as possible to our garden, let it water the plants, soak into the soil, and recharge the ground water.   By capturing every drop, we can make the best use of the water that fall on our roof every year.

After – drought tolerant landscape

The garden projects are done!  This is how the front yard looks now:

To further absorb the rainwater, a small ditch was made in the middle of the garden.  Filled with pebble stones, the “river” can take all the rain water coming down the two down sprouts when it rains.  In addition to capturing the rain water,  it adds a vivid element to the landscape, making it look more lively and appealing.   The rocks scattering across the garden add yet more textures and balance out the “river” in the middle.

All the plants are drought tolerant. They sport pink, purple, yellow and white blossoms, making the garden not just water efficient, but also cheerful.

For the backyard, in front of the Olive tree, another Mediterranean native  – the lavenders, add color and aroma.

a water efficient garden

Close to the patio, a native plant from California flank the pathway with their tiny blue blossom and dark green leaves.

California native plant

Irrigation controller and drip irrigation was done for all the plants.  In addition, a rain sensor was also installed, which is connected to the irrigation controller.  When it rains, the rain sensor will send signal to the controller, which will delay the irrigation scheduled until the rain stops.  A simple device can save even more water for the garden.

How does it do in the rain?

Right after the garden was installed, a much-waited-for rain came.  For 3 days rain kept pouring down.  How did the garden do?

Very well.  While the rain that fell on the driveway inevitably runs off,  every drop of the rain that fell on the roof all went into the garden from the two down spouts.  Plants love the rain water, which is not  treated with chemicals, as is the case for in-house water.  Plants grown up with rain water usually grow faster, stronger, and have better and larger blossom.

After the project was finished,  information such as garden photos were submitted to the Rebate Program, which issued a rebate promptly.

By converting a brown lawn into a water efficient garden, the space looks much more appealing.  In a dry place like California, it can save 30-60%  of water comparing with a lawn, saving cost and maintenance work.  On top of it, when it rains, it can absorb every drop of the rain water, feeding the plants, and saving even more water.  For all these these great benefits, you can receive a rebate of $1-$2 per square foot.

The owner was happy with the project.  “It looks very good.  We are really happy with the design. ”

We are not receiving the average level of rain this year;  it looks we are going to have another dry year.   We’ve got to be prepared for the dry time now.  Why wait?  Start today!

lawn to water efficient garden conversion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Sierra Nevada in Fall (1): Source of Our Water

On an October morning, we went to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.  It was a very clear and nice fall morning.  On high way 99, you could see the irrigation ditch running parallel to the free way.  Though tiny from afar, the blue color of the water contrasted briskly with the yellow banks along it and mountains behind it.  Sierra Nevada and its snowpack, is the source for the water, which we will see very soon.

irrigation

South Fork, Kings River

After we watched in awe the giant Sequioas the first day, we went to the Kings Canyon National Park the next day.  When driving on the road into the park, one could see water running in the canyon to the right of the road, in the yellow and golden fall foliage.  The views were spectacular.

This is the South Fork of the Kings River, one of the three forks that form the river (the other two are Middle and North Fork).

We stopped at Ceder Grove Visitor Center, which  just closed for the winter season.  A short distance away is the river bank of the King river.  The water was so clear, like liquid crystal, moved slowly from east to west.

Kings River 4

Where does all this water come from?  Snowpack in Sierra Nevada, a mountain of which can be seen in the picture above at the back.  However, there was no snow patch visible now.

Every year, during the cold winter season, snows falls on the Sierra Nevada, which means “snowy range” in Spanish.  The whole mountain range captures and stores the vast amount of snow, then at spring time, the snowpack begins to melt and fills rivers with water, like the South Fork of Kings river here.  The snowmelt peaks late spring around March to April, then declines through summer and fall, until it reaches the bottom around September.  So we were at about what was supposed to be the very low point of snowmelt.  The water level should be about the lowest now; usually we might not see all these rocks at the riverbed.

Kings River 5

From here, the water in South Fork flows down Kings Canyon, then join other forks at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to become the one big Kings River.  Later the Kings River divides into three distributaries, with North Fork Distributary connecting to the Fresno Slough that drains into the San Joaquin River.  San Joaquin River merges with the Sacramento River in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta), from which the State Water Project and Central Valley Project deliver the water to many parts of the state, including the Bay area, Central Valley, Los Angles and Los Angeles Basin.  So, when we turn on the tap back in the bay area, the water that comes out may be from the water we see here!

San Joaquin River
By Shannon1 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Water Fountain
Water fountain in the Bay area

We continued on.  When we passed the bridge for Roaring River, we decided to go take a small hike.  Roaring river is a tributary for the South Fork;  At the end of the trail, you could see a water fall, tumbling down one after another (the upper one could not be seen in the photo unfortunately).  The water is jade green at the bottom of the fall.  More than 100 years ago, when John Muir saw this water fall, he marveled: “There is one thundering plunge into a dark pool beneath a glorious mass of rainbow spray…”

Roaring River

After the double falls,  the water tumbles down yet another step, then flows to this little pool surrounded by mountains and fall foliage, a stunning beauty in green tranquility.  From here, it merges into the South Fork.

Roaring River

Roaring River 3

We came back to the main road along the South Fork, and went upstream.  Along the way, every view with the river was captivating.

Kings River

Sierra Nevada Snowpack: Critical Source of the Water

All this water comes from snowmelt of the Sierra Nevada, which is so critical for California’s water supply.  As Sierra Nevada Conservancy indicates,  “The Sierra Nevada Region plays a critical role in California’s water supply and hydrological system. More than 60 percent of California’s developed water supply originates in the Sierra Nevada serving end users throughout the State.  Snowpack in the Sierra region provides a natural form of water storage, and Sierra forests and meadows play a role in ensuring water quality and reliability.”

Sierra Nevada Smowpack

By storing the water as snow in winter, and gradually releasing it in warmer seasons, the snowpack in Serra Nevada acts as a gigantic natural reservoir for the state.  According to The Southwest Climate Science Center,  “In California, the spring snowpack on average stores about 70% as much as the water stored in the State’s reservoirs.”

That’s amazing.  The water that flows by in front of us is not just this incredible natural beauty; along with the surrounding mountains, the snowpack there invisible to our eyes, they are part of this huge water storage and delivery system, supporting “more than 25 million Californians and three million acres of agricultural land.”, as indicated by Sierra Nevada Conservancy.  People like us who live in the cities, big and small, depend on it; the state’s agriculture business, at 45 billion in 2016, depend on it.

Challenges for the Snowpack

Such a critical resource, unfortunately, is under some very serious challenges.

The impact from climate change is significant.  According to a study by UCLA Center for Climate Science:

  • “By 2081–2100, if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, average temperatures in the Sierra Nevada are projected to increase by about 7–10 degrees F, depending on the month in question, compared with 1981–2000.
  • Warming will be associated with decreases in snow cover in the Sierra Nevada by 2081–2100. For the typical month of April, the land area covered by snow shrinks by 48%, compared with the typical April in 1981–2000. “

In another study published in the peer-review journal Nature in 2017, “Westen U.S. Snowpack could decline 60% by 2040“, with a decline of 30% “very likely”.

  • Reduced snowmelt runoff.  Smaller snowpack means less snowmelt.  This is already happening.  Water Education Foundation indicates that “In the past 100 years, annual runoff that occurs during April to July has decreased by 23 percent for the Sacramento basin and 19 percent for the San Joaquin basin, according to state climate statistics.”  As more than 60 percent of the state’s water supply comes from Sierra Nevada, the reduced runoff is a very serious challenge.
  • Snowline is moving uphill.   Scientists at the Desert Research Institute in a study published in journal Water reported that warmer temperatures have pushed the snow line in the northern Sierra Nevada uphill by 1,200 to 1,500 feet.
  • There will be less snow and more rain.  As the snowline moves up, in the big areas that used to receive snow, now will only receive rainfall.  Snowpack is like a reservoir that releases water gradually throughout the whole year; Rain, on the other hand, will just flow away instantly as runoff.  If we can’t capture and store all the runoff, we will lose a big chunk of water we have today.
  • Runoff timing moves earlier.  For the Sacramento River, compared to 50 years ago, the peak snowmelt time has moved earlier by a whole month, from early April to early March.  Here is the chart showing the changes in peak snowmelt runoff.  When snowmelt peaks early, reservoirs are forced to release water earlier too, which means less water for later when water is needed the most – summer and fall.   If the snow is gone before the reservoirs can recharge, then communities that depend on that stored water will face very tough situations.

Snowmelt Peak

Credit: California Department of Water Resources

  • More wild fires.  Higher temperatures bring more wild fires. The loss of such a big number of trees deteriorates the eco system, reduces the nature’s capacity to store water, further worsening the water supply situation.  As there will be no trees to slow down the runoff, the possibility and hazard of flooding will also greatly increase.
Value Every Drop

On our way home, we crossed the bridge of Kings River.  Looking out of the window, one can see fields after fields of corps, all the way to the horizon.  When one took a glimpse at the water in an irrigation ditch, it was clear, blue, and calm as a mirror, a contrast to the water we just saw in the Kings Canyon.

Kings River

Irrigation Ditch

After it flows out of Kings Canyon, the Kings River comes here and irrigates this vast expanse of land, and beyond.  It has been like that for many years, and it’s natural to think it will continue for many more years.  However, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack will “very likely” reduce by 30% in the next 20 years, the water we see today might not be there tomorrow.

A city completely without water is not just a remote possibility any more, it is happening.  Cape Town, the second largest city in South Africa,  is projected to run into “Day Zero“, when running water will be completely cuts off from the city, in May.

As the natural water supply will only decrease, every drop of the water should be valued.  By improving water use efficiency, Pacific Institute’s indicated in a report that we can save 1 million acre water a year.  Out of all the methods to come up with more water, “improving the efficiency of our water use is the cheapest, easiest, fastest, and least destructive way to meet California’s current and future water supply needs.”

In California, outdoor landscaping watering accounts for half of total urban water use .  To replace water-thirsty lawns with water efficient gardens is one of the most effective ways we can save water.  Building such a garden will not only conserve water, but also beautify our space, provide food to the pollinator, and nurture a healthy eco system.

By putting every drop into the best use,  not only will we have the water we need, we can also best show our gratitude to the nature, and its generous gifts for us for so many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fallen Leaves – A Nuisance or Treasure?

Fall is here – look at that beautiful foliage!

 

Leaves 2

While we love to appreciate the wonderful colors of the fall foliage, the one thing that often accompany it – the fallen leaves, is another story. “What a nuisance!” – we might think.  With the thought we might just pick up the rake and bloom, sweep them together, pile them up, then dump them away as garbage. We have been doing this for so long we never thought second time about it.

But is this right?

Actually, the best place for those leaves to go is not garbage, but where they fall on – the earth, or soil, to be more precise.  This is what nature has been doing for millions of years.  It is the nature’s way of keeping everything alive and well.

Learn from nature

If we go to a forest, when we set our sight on its floor, we might see a thick layer of leaves, accumulated over many years.  Nobody cleans them away; the leaves just keep falling and sitting on the older leaves, year after year.  Over the time, those leaves at the bottom will be absorbed into the soil.

Fallen leaves are an excellent source of organic matter for the soil.  With the help of all the living things in the soil, including macro (worms etc.) and micro organisms (bacteria, etc.) in the soil, they will be broken down and transformed into nutrients for the plants.  The soil with the abundance of such nutrients is called black gold.  These kind of soil is:

  • very fertile and great for plants growth.  They are full of the nutrients, moisture, minerals and other matters that plants need for their growth; plants grow faster, taller and healthier with such soil;
  • holds more water.  this kind of soil is a great environment for all kinds of macro and micro organisms.  They improve the soil structure and make the soil like a sponge with many tiny holes.  This kind of soil can retain a large amount of water, making it more drought resistant.  If we have such soil in our garden, watering can be reduced by quite a bit.

In California, where drought is a constant threat, while all kinds of solutions are being explored, healthy soil, with its water holding capacity and implication for water usage reduction, can be an important part of the overall solutions.

  • can absorb more carbon.  In addition to water, soil also holds air, with a big part of that is carbon.  Plants take in carbon dioxide and water, and transform into sugars and oxygen in the photosynthesis function.

Healthy soil can also hold more carbon.  As we are facing the  climate change, which the carbon dioxide is the culprit, it turns out, soil can also play an important role for fighting climate change.   According to Nature Conservancy, “Healthy soils can help reduce the impact of climate change by storing (or sequestering) up to 10 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. But, if soils are managed poorly or cultivated through unsustainable agricultural practices, soil carbon can be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, which can contribute to climate change.”

From the above, we can see how important healthy soil is for us, and fallen leaves can be one of the keys to achieving it!  Fallen leaves is something that healthy soil needs and badly craves.  In stead of dumping the leaves away, we can try following.

Use fallen leaves the right way

These are the great ways to use the fallen leaves in your home:

  • Mulch your yard with leaves.  This can provide two benefits at the same time: give soil the organic matter, and suppress the growth of weeds.  No need to shred the leaves – they can be worked into the soil fine.  If you prefer, you can shred them before mulching.

fallen leaves

  • Compost.  Leaves are an excellent source of compost materials.  Put them into a compost bin, add food scraps and others (water, etc) with the right ratio, and let the compost process begin.  After about two months, you can get good compost soil that you can apply to the plants.
  • Put them in a yard waste bin.  If your city has a yard waste collection program, put them in the specific bin.  The leaves in the bin will be sent to a compost facility instead of  a landfill.  This way you can help avoid the pollution in a landfill, and turned them into compost – something good for us.
  • Avoid using the leaf blower.  They make noise and carbon dioxide, something we don’t need more of!  If the leaves can’t be left on where they are (remember they make excellent mulch and contribute to great soil) and must be collected, just use a rake or bloom.  Enjoy the foliage while you rake.