Too Busy: A Haiku

Life is too busy
my brown garden parched and sad
summer, hot and long

What a complainer, eh?

I miss my gardening nirvana, that blissful state that comes from weeding, pruning, planting, bug-picking, harvesting, and all things gardening.  Today after work and before an evening engagement, I soaked my sore muscles in a hot bath, then saved all that water for the trees.

I used a one-gallon jug to bail the water, then carried it outdoors with a lightweight trash bin to catch the drips. It is so blazing hot that I raced back inside for gallon after gallon, knowing our trees are in a bad way. I bailed about ten gallons that would otherwise go down the drain, and delivered guilt-free water to the tree’s roots. They’re in a lot of distress.

bailing water

Bailing water to water trees

The city-imposed water restrictions allow for two days of watering a week, regardless of the circumstances. On a cool, cloudy day evaporation is less of a problem. With the start of another heat wave however, (high 90’s F or 34 C) my garden droops.

On the plus side, yesterday’s water bill shows decent conservation: We’ve reduced our water usage from 403 gallons a day (for a household of four) to 318 gallons. In 2013 we were using 515 gallons a day.

July, 2013  515 gallons per day

July, 2014 403 gallons per day

July, 2015 318 gallons per day

The discouraging part: we’re still over our allotment, thought not by much. We’re allocated 10.012 ccf for this period, and we used 10.229. So close!

Additionally, the Santa Clara Valley Water District is raising rates by 6.44% effective July 1st. So our usage is down, and our rates are up.
Here’s the latest from the Santa Clara Valley Water District:

For the first time in state history, the Governor directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25%.  Please remember that most areas in the county have a restriction on irrigating ornamental landscape with potable water to two days a week.

The rainfall year that ended on June 30th was another below-average year in the county.  The California Department of Water Resources found no snow during its April 1, 2015, manual survey at 6,800 feet in the Sierra Nevada.  This was the first time in 75 years of early April measurements at the Phillips snow course that no snow was found there.

The District will continue to conduct limited groundwater recharge using available surface water.  However, total groundwater storage is predicted to fall in the Severe Stage at the end of 2015 if water use reduction for the rest of the year is similar to that in the first five months of the year, highlighting the need for continued water use reduction at the 30% level or above.

And so it goes. What’s the weather up to in your neck of the woods? I think it’s off kilter all over the globe.

Loving Our Earth

I’m spending  Earth Day getting my hands dirty.  I started yesterday, since there is always a lot to do this time of year. After dispatching every last weed in the garden, I got busy staking the tomatoes I didn’t plant and harvesting the potatoes from the compost pile. I didn’t plant the potatoes either.

So far it’s been an interesting spring in the garden. We’ve stopped watering pretty much everything. This is year four of the California drought, prompting Governor Brown to issue mandatory, 25% state-wide water restrictions.  Later this week I’m meeting with a landscape designer to draw up alternative plans to replace our lawn.

In this semi-arid state, we have no business planting lawns in the first place. It’s an old tradition, imported from the lush gardens of England and Europe where water is plentiful. Somehow it became a status symbol and then the status quo. Those days are over.

I’ve been contemplating several ideas but I seem to lack the overall vision of what a replacement will look like. It will be nice to meet with J.P. who designed our beautiful front ramp and deck  in 2010 and the circular patio out back.

2010 Landcape Plan front yard

J.P. Bergez, Landscape Design

2010 front garden design bergez

Completed Landscape, 2010

Two years ago we removed the grassy sidewalk strip and replaced it with a flower garden. The sidewalk garden uses less water while attracting beneficial insects. I think it’s much prettier, too. We should have done it years ago.

Sidewalk strip before and after

Sidewalk strip before and after

Yesterday I gathered all of my stored seeds including my much-loved sunflowers and planted them in the curb garden. There they will grow or perish. They’ll have to get by with the water available to that narrow strip.

Late last year Garden Sunshine blogged about her sheet mulching project and I knew immediately that I wanted to do the same thing.  I drew a mental line down the center of the lawn in our back garden, then sheet mulched half of it. The area is still composting, but I achieved the desired effect: that section of the lawn is gone. Slowly, gradually, our water-thirsty suburban grass is going away.

I’ll let you know how the consult goes.

Here are my goals:

  • Reduce the amount of water needed to maintain the garden by half. Since 50% of residential water use goes to irrigation, cutting that use in half means we’ll achieve a 25% reduction overall.
  • Create a small seating area for my swing under the shade of the orange tree. We used to have the swing under the tree, but it rested on the lawn. We had to remember to move it every two or three days, or deal with a soggy swing. No grass, no problem.  My future, summer afternoon napping place is secure.
  • Share the process and what I learn along the way with others via my blog, Facebook, Twitter and email.

Please let me know if you take the Earth Day quiz, below. I only scored five out of ten but was happy to know I beat the average score of four.

Heat and Water

First, the heat.

Our forecasted high for today is 100F (38C).  It’s going to be hot again tomorrow and Friday before cooling down for the weekend.  I have both the temperament and the complexion for the British Aisles, so this weather puts me out of sorts. Mouse agrees.

Mouse Trying to Cool Off

Mouse Trying to Cool Off

My lettuce looks a bit on the wilted side, but the rest of the garden crops are enjoying the summer.  (Oh wait, it’s still spring…it’s hard to tell anymore).  The pumpkin seedlings are up, the raspberries  are flourishing and the tomatoes are yelling, ‘look ma, I’ve grown!’

sprouting pumpkins

Sprouting Pumpkins

tomatoes and raspberries

Tomatoes and Raspberries Enjoy the heat

Unfortunately we’re in the middle of a terrible drought.  Above-average temperatures further evaporate our low reservoirs. Dry grasses increase fire risk.

Which brings me to water.

I met with Cheri Garza of San Jose Water Company for a household water audit. She really knows her business, and taught me a lot. Outdoors, she inspected the hose bibbs, our irrigation system, the irrigation schedule and the water main.  She tested for leaks and watering efficiency, then measured the square footage of our lawn.  She liked the sidewalk strip conversion (we removed the lawn and capped several sprinkler heads.  She said a lot of water goes to waste in the strip.

Indoors, she checked faucets, showers and toilets in each bathroom, then checked the kitchen faucet, dishwasher and washing machine.

On the plus side, our indoor water usage is efficient.  All the faucets, toilets and showers use 2 gallons per minute or less.  I do minimal hand-washing , which is less efficient than a fully loaded dishwasher and the same for clothes washing.  The down side is that it will be harder to reduce when mandatory rationing sets in.

Outdoors, however, there are many ways to improve our water efficiency.  San Jose Water is offering partial rebates and we qualify for all three.  They allow you one year from the date of the audit to complete the projects.  Originally they rebated seventy-five cents per square foot.  They’ve increased that amount through September to $2 per square foot if you replace water-thirsty lawn with approved native and drought tolerant plantings.

The second rebate offers up to $5 per sprinkler head.  Our sprinklers are only four years old, but the new and  improved Rainbird U-Series uses up to 30% less water.

The third rebate went into effect in January and applies to a graywater system.  Water savings amounts to 17 gallons per person, per day, or on average 14,565 gallons per household per year. I need to do my research on this, but on the surface, I love it.  You divert graywater from your washing machine and use it to water non-edible landscaping.

graywater system

Water Wise Group graywater/greywater system

Here are a few general tips for water savings outdoors:

  • Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water landscaping.
  • Water in the morning, to reduce evaporation
  • In California, turn off your irrigation system completely in December until mid-March.
  • Water your lawn for three to seven minutes, three to four days a week.
  • Go Native! Attract birds and beneficial insects and at the same time conserve water

To save water indoors:

  • Shower for ten minutes or less
  • Don’t flush at night
  • Run full loads of dishes and laundry
  • Replace out of date toilets with 1.28 gpf

It’s a lot of information to digest, but I’m excited at the possibilities.

If you have more tips, please share them in the comments below.