Tag Archives: Sustainable Landscape

Dollars for Turf and Toilets

Tip of the Month – September 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville

The California Department of Water Resources has announced new rebates to help replace old, inefficient toilets and lawns with water-saving alternatives.Besides the $100 rebate to replace one toilet per household, the bigger rebate is $2 per square foot for lawn replacement, up to $2,000 per household. www.SaveOurWaterRebates.com.

Now is an opportune time to replace your water-thirsty lawn because if the weather forecasts are right, we should soon receive El Nino soaking rains. My husband and I converted our front and backyard lawns in response to the 2008-09 EBMUD emergency requesting a 20% reduction in water use by residential customers. We stopped watering our lawns¾and plants¾with the idea that anything that couldn’t make it on once a month watering would be replaced.

front yard

There are many classes and free resources about drought tolerant plants including seasonal sales from The Garden at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek and the Horticulture Program at Diablo Valley College. I worked with Chris Finch, a drought tolerant plant expert that helped write the publication, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry climates of the San Francisco Bay Region  to identify plants that appealed to me and would work in our community’s climate. EBMUD also has a resource list of local nurseries, demonstration gardens, classes and events, and books where you can learn about and view native plants.  Additionally, some local nurseries will design a lawn conversion planting plan for a fee and then rebate the fee as credit toward plants purchased. (Click here to investigate East Bay nurseries that offer significant “Tear Out Your Lawn” challenge discounts and free consultations.)

After laying a new path of Kentucky Blue Stone pavers, we tapped off our sprinklers that would later be converted to drip irrigation.  During the month, our neighbors and friends saved newspapers and cardboard to use for sheet mulching. This is an important step

in the conversion process because the sheet mulch kills the lawn and suppresses further weed growth while improving soil nutrients and structure and encouraging favorable microbial activity.  Sheet mulching is a wonderful labor saver because it spares you the hard work of actually tearing out the lawn.  However, if your lawn is full of tree roots you may have to do some additional digging or rototilling to rid the area of roots before you can lay down an effective mulch covering.  (Click here to learn more tips for sheet mulching success.)

 

cardboard

 

Once we had our plant layout, we knew exactly where we needed water, so we converted our sprinklers to drip irrigation. This weekend project was accomplished with a trip to the local hardware store that offers a screw-on octopus replacement to sprinkler heads that make it easy to connect tubing and drippers.

pathway Once the sheet mulching was done, we covered it with 5 inches of compost. I was able to plant over 60 plants in one afternoon and because I used 4-inch sized pots and there was no need to dig into the cardboard/newspaper. While I was doubtful the plants would fill our yard, Chris assured me that they would be full-sized by spring. But she was right. I encourage you to visit lawn conversion page to see more pictures and learn more about the process.

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

 

 

 

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It’s Time for a Picnic

Sustainable Danville Area Tip of the Month – April 2013

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

Just two days past Spring Equinox and Mother Nature has spring fever.  The poppies are flourishing along with so many other colorful blooms and even after what has proven to be our driest winter, our hills are green.  The sun is warm and my concentration is so poor; I had to ask for a deadline extension for submitting this month’s tip of the month.  This month’s column has more than just one Sustainable Tip of the Month, but it’s a picnic – a smorgasbord of ‘Where to Find Sustainable Tips’.

For almost three years, we have shared tips on everything from the benefits of biking, local food, sustainable landscaping to home energy diets, eco-travel, raising chickens and eco-friendly art supplies.  These articles are still available to you online from Danville Today News/Alamo Today News and on the Sustainable Danville Area website

Often, I’m asked to describe what sustainable living is and simply it’s ‘making choices that allow our resources to continue to be available for our children and their children’, ‘living as though there’s no Planet B’ and remembering that ‘Planet Earth is the only one with chocolate’.  With this in mind and in honor of Earth Day, celebrated worldwide on April 22nd by hundreds of millions of people in over 184 countries, here are some of our favorite places for information and tips to care for our corner of this wonderful planet.

Gardening:  Hands down the Contra Costa Master Gardeners have it ‘going on’. These trained volunteers are residents of local communities that provide University of California research-based horticultural information to the citizens of California. Besides engaging local lectures, their website is filled with tips for school gardens, edible gardens and drought and native landscaping.

Composting & Recycling:  Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority offers terrific information on where to recycle just about anything.  You’ll also find a calendar for composting workshops, including worm composting too.

PG&E:   Saving energy in your home is not just good for the planet, it’s good for your pocketbook. PG&E has great tools to track your electric and gas usage online and they make it easy to do a self-audit of your home energy to find and prevent energy loss.

Environmental Working Group  This powerhouse site is our ‘go-to’ place for everything from their cosmetic database, the Dirty Dozen list (which recommends the best fruits and vegetables to buy organic to avoid pesticides) and guides on sunscreens, home cleaners and other daily products.

Earth Day EventWant more?  Well then, Picnic on the Green! The Town of Danville, The Danville Library and Sustainable Danville Area present the 3rd Annual Town of Danville Earth Day Event on Saturday, April 20th 12pm – 4pm on the Town Green, in  the Danville Library, at the community center and the Village Theatre Art Gallery.

The Town of Danville Earth Day event is a free, fun and informative way for residents and visitors of all ages to learn about green building, sustainable landscape design, solar power, home energy efficient products, waste reduction, recycling, water conservation, hybrid and electrical vehicles and much more!

Pack your picnic or purchase lunch and snacks al fresco from La Boulange Bakery while enjoying music from local band, Other People’s Money.  Play with our Giant Earth Ball, visit with hybrid/electric car and electric bicycle owners and participate in popular hands-on activities at interactive booths, including:

  •  Get ready to experience nature with Peanuts…Naturally! Fun, creative environmental crafts and activity stations presented by the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
  • Plant a seed to start your summer vegetable garden with The Bounty Garden and Urban Farmers.
  • Explore the Wonderful World of Worms and Composting for Busy People.
  • Make an Earth Day pledge to reduce, re-use or recycle. See how Every Choice Counts and help the Earth Day Tree grow!  Everyone who adds a ‘leaf pledge’ will be entered into an hourly raffle to win a “Get Your Green On” reusable book bag.
  • Afternoon speaker series will help you Green Your Home, Replace your Lawn with Drought Tolerant Plants and Enjoying Local, Organic Foods for a Healthy Planet.
  • Be inspired at Story Time with special tales and eco-friendly ideas to celebrate the Earth all year.
  • Measure your carbon footprint.Discover if solar energy is right for your home?
  • Be dazzled by art from local students at the Earth Day Student Art Show in the Village Theatre Art Gallery. (Students: click here for  details to enter contest before 4/5/13)
  • Try new veggies from Community Supported Agriculture Farms – Full Belly Farms & Doorstep Farmers.

Students from San Ramon Valley High School Environmental Club are hosting free bicycle parking for the event, so please consider two wheels or your feet as parking is limited for the event.  Hope to see you there!

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News

MOW NO MORE

tip of the month – august 2012

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President

My family has always been grateful for the ‘dog day afternoons’ of August.  Sure to be filled with hot, sunny skies its’ time to leave lawn chores behind and head to the beach.  For years, we made sure to lighten our burden by following prudent grass growing techniques to make our escape easier and less guilt ridden.

Long ago we stopped using synthetic fertilizers because they are a threat to the bay as they wash down storm drains. Of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem and others are toxic to birds, bees and humans, htttp://beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/30health.pdf .   Additionally, these chemicals are formulated to stimulate a lot of grass growth quickly, demanding more water and even more mowing! Using organic products and grass clippings that work with the soil and feed the lawn slowly over the season makes for less work.  Every spring until after Labor Day, we’d set our lawnmower blade higher to leave our grass at least 3 inches long after each ‘haircut’. The taller grass shaded the surface of the soil preventing crabgrass and other weed seeds from taking root, helped conserve water and thus, encouraged deep root growth to allow our lawn to become more drought-tolerant.

When my youngest son shared EPA statistics learned in his high school AP Environmental Science class about gas powered lawnmowers representing 5% of the US air pollution before 1997, we had our excuse to look for alternatives.  Unregulated for emissions until the late 1990’s, gas powered garden equipment emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide – in other words pollution in your backyard. In fact, the EPA states that a new gas powered lawn mower produces enough air pollution in one hour as 11 new cars each being driven for one hour. http://www.epa.gov/air/community/details/yardequip_addl_info.html

The solution seemed apparent after a trip to the local hardware store where my husband ‘oohed’ over the latest ‘push’ mowers that definitely are not your father’s lawnmower.  Touting high-grade plastics, lightweight metals, precision blades that rarely need sharpening and promising the cutting of grass cleanly and evenly, we were almost there.   And then, the water emergency of 2009 hit us.  EBMUD penalized any resident that didn’t cut their water usage by twenty percent.  Given that we were already using an on-demand water heater, a high efficiency washer and dryer and a foot peddle that controls the water faucet in the kitchen sink to turn off the water when not needed, it was up to our garden to give up ‘it’s drink’.  This only made sense since more than 30 percent of all urban fresh water is used for watering lawns.  Imagine how much is wasted because of inappropriate timing, dosage or misdirected sprinklers.  I went outside and explained the situation to the grass and plants, “Look guys it’s been lovely, but you either flourish on once a week watering or be composted”.  More than half the garden made it, including my favorite rose bush, now entering its 32th year of precious yellow blooms.  However, I needed replacement for the other half of plants and the ‘California Golden’ lawn.  Luckily that’s when I came across an EBMUD program to convert my garden grass to a native plant landscape.

The EBMUD rebate program (extended to December 31, 2012) provides up to $500 dollars to help transform your lawn into water permeable and drought-resistant landscape.  Converting our front and back lawns through the EBMUD program was very simple.  The first step is to measure the lawn area you want to convert than complete the application form which can be found online at https://www.ebmud.com/for-customers/water-conservation-rebates-and-services/watersmart-residential-lawn-conversion.

The best time to start the physical work of the project is mid-to-late September since new plants will benefit from the approaching winter dominancy and rains.  However, August is the perfect time to start the design process by familiarizing yourself with drought tolerant plants that will thrive in your microclimate.  A wonderful resource is EBMUD publication Plant and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region.  EBMUD also has a resource list of bay area nurseries, demonstration gardens, classes and books where you can learn about and view native plants.

As part of the lawn conversion program, an EBMUD representative will meet with you both pre and post-conversion.  The representative shared great resources and explained that using the process of sheet mulching would spare us the hard work of tearing out the lawn.  Sheet mulching is a layered mulching system that suppresses weeds and in the case of a lawn conversion, grass.  This process also made it possible to plant over 60 small plants in the front yard in one afternoon – alone.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Death of My Lawnmower: One Homeowners’ Journey to Replacing Our Lawn, visit https://sustainabledanville.wordpress.com/save-water-and-energy-with-a-lawn-conversion/.   And if you’re not quite envying our mow-free weekends, then consider this watering guide for water smart tips for landscape: http://www.ebmud.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/WateringGuide_0.pdf

Remember to visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com and on Facebook for more tips, information and upcoming events, like:

Kathy Kramer of Bringing Back the Natives has organized a series of fall events including two workshops on how to sheet mulch your lawn and install native gardens.  Dates: September 16 in Livermore and October 21 in Lafayette and Concord.

Read more at the Bringing Back the Natives website.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News