Saturday, October 20, 2012

Watershed Awareness

I'm attending a course at the moment that is run by the Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program, or the acronym of SCVURPPP, which when pronounced sounds like someone trying to stifle a sneeze.

Personally, the purpose of this endeavor is to earn a place as the first gardening coach on the Green Gardener list featured on their Watershed Watch website.

The Watershed Watch website aims to educate the public about urban runoff pollution prevention in general and SCVURPPP in particular, and to train gardening professionals how to do their jobs with the least impact to our creeks and ultimately the bay.
It is a good refresher of the Master Gardener Initial Training from nearly two years ago. The course begins, as all good gardening courses should, with a look at soils and explains how the soil texture dictates how we should water. Basically, clay soils hold on to water more than sandy soils do. In the Santa Clara Valley we have predominantly clay soils and so we should water less frequently but for a longer time. For lawns that cannot absorb all the water delivered in a prolonged time, multiple start times are recommended to prevent surface run-off.

It showed us how to measure sprinkler output and based on this we can more accurately determine how  long to water each week based on charts found in this document. This means that less water is wasted to begin with and that water applied to our lawns and gardens is used by plants and simply not left as surface run-off - therefore, reducing pollutants washed into our natural waterways.
An important part of being a Green Gardener is to stop using toxic chemicals in our landscapes beginning with the gas used to power equipment like blowers and mowers. Very often gasoline is spilled while filling these machines. This too is washed into our rivers and eventually to the sea. The EPA estimates that each year 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled. I assume in the USA though I couldn't find the source EPA data just references to it here http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8554.html and here http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm.  

That's more gallons of gas than the amount of oil spilled by the Exon Valdez, every year!

Last week we covered pest management, the take-home message being use chemicals ONLY as a LAST RESORT.

I pride myself on gardening organically. However, in our class there is a lady who is so hard-core Eco-friendly that she makes the rest of us look like oil slugging, smog vomiting, chemical spewing, baby-polar-bear hunters.

A discussion arose between us about the use of Sluggo.  Sluggo is organic and I use it freely in my yard. I've finally  managed to get my mollusc problem under control and most of my seedlings survive at least long enough to be eaten by something else now. So it would be fair to say, I am a fan of Sluggo.

But this lady pointed out that it is a chemical and I'm putting it on my garden. I felt churlish and petty to  point out that water is also a chemical we use on our yard. But I, not understanding how a fellow gardener could not hate slugs and snails as much as I do, must have been in shock, because no witty comeback was forthcoming.

Bewildered, I simply asked, "So what do you do about your snails?"

"Nothing," she told me. "I don't have any."

"How can you not have any snails?" If truth be told, I didn't believe her. Nor did I judge her for that - who hasn't spun a wee white lie to win a tiny wee argument once in a while?

"I just plant stuff that attracts birds to my yard and they eat the slugs," She said, very pleased with herself. (Well, if I had no slimy critter problems, I'd be equally as smug.)

But I have birds. They eat what the snails don't. I even have lizards, sometimes snakes and regular visits from raccoons (the buggers pooped on top of my compost bin last week). In fact, I even had a visit from a duckling once, and they love slugs and snails.

"But what about your seedlings?" I asked, sure that I'd get some kind of agreement."All my newly germinated stuff gets eaten by the slugs and snails."

"What are you planting?" she asked.

"Everything. Lettuce. They eat all my brassicas, peas, beans, beets, chard."

"So just plant something else."

"I can't," I said, feeling completely defeated. "I need to eat. I eat from my garden."

I knew that buried in there I had a really good point but tongue-tied and flustered I missed my moment. I felt tainted because I used a chemical in my garden, albeit an organic one, one that actually added iron to the soil and only harmed the target species, but this amazing Eco-warrior had accomplished the same effect without Sluggo. By comparison, I was a failure.

But was I? Two days later, (sitting in the bathtub ironically, wallowing in water) I thought of a great comeback. Oh ye of witty repartee!

Basically my counter argument was this. While I'm using Sluggo to grow my veggies I don't invoke a huge carbon footprint for that lettuce or broccoli. It doesn't get packaged and carted across the country. No storage in an air-conditioned store room for my sugar snap peas. No mist and thunder sound effect in the grocery isle for my zucchini. Nor do I have to get in my car and drive to get them. In fairness, I do go to the store for other stuff so I could pick up veggies, but the extra weight in the car would use up more gas - right?

Of course, all this sounded great echoing around the bathroom tiles with no-one but myself to hear it!

But it just made me think that as gardeners, and people, just struggling to make it on this planet, we all have to make compromises and concessions that steer us off the path to perfection.  However, with good education we can make more informed and ultimately better choices, not to mention great debates with ourselves in the bathroom.

It's a beautiful bay and Sluggo or no Sluggo, I want to help keep it that way.

Byddi Lee



2 comments:

  1. "...or the acronym of SCVURPPP, which when pronounced sounds like someone trying to stifle a sneeze."

    Ha!

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  2. We don't have a snail problem here. I don't know why, we have more banana slugs than I can shake a stick at, but no snails. The banana slugs mostly seem more interested in woodland material than my garden, but not always. However, I do find that when I direct sow a lot of seeds that the seedlings are consumed by insects, birds, or rodents, quite quickly. Instead I start everything I can (except things like carrots of course) in the greenhouse first. By transplanting them out when they are larger they seem be able to grow fast enough to out-compete things that want to eat them. For tender greens I also use row covers, like Agribon 15, to protect them further. So far I haven't needed to use Sluggo.

    I do agree though, gardening often is about compromise. Rodents are our big problem here, so we trap as we refuse to use poison, but recently the trap snagged a spotted Towhee. It was so sad to find that in the garden. Realistically we can't not trap, or our crops would be decimated by voles, but we may have to change how we trap (maybe keep them covered so birds can't accidentally trip them). By gardening organically we're already so far ahead of the environmental curve relative to mass crop production, but each of us have to address problems unique to our gardens, or we'd have little to no garden at all.

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