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Food Waste Reduction
Food Recovery Hierarchy
“The Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes actions organizations can take to prevent and divert wasted food. Each tier of the Food Recovery Hierarchy focuses on different management strategies for your wasted food.
The top levels of the hierarchy are the best ways to prevent and divert wasted food because they create the most benefits for the environment, society and the economy.”
By conducting a waste audit either at your home or business will allow you to get a better picture of how much food is generated, which can lead to effective wasted food prevention strategies. Preventing wasted food is a matter of implementing better habits like reducing serving sizes as appropriate for your community.
Feed Hungry People
In 2014, over 38 million tons of wasted food were thrown away in the United States. At the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 13 percent of American households had difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources at some time during 2015.1 In many cases, the food tossed into our nation’s landfills is wholesome, edible food.
Food scraps for animals can save farmers and company’s money. It is often cheaper to feed animals food scraps rather than having them hauled to a landfill. Companies can also donate extra food to zoos or producers that make animal or pet food. There are many opportunities to feed animals, help the environment and reduce costs. You can donate your animal feed scraps locally at cropmobster or farmer’s guild in Sonoma County.
Food can be used to not only feed people and animals, but also power your car or generator. There is increasing interest in finding effective means to obtain biofuel and bio-products from wasted food. These options aim to alleviate some of the environmental and economic issues associated with wasted food while increasing the use of alternative energy sources.
Even when all actions have been taken to use your wasted food, certain inedible parts will still remain and can be turned into compost to feed and nourish the soil. Like yard waste, food waste scraps can also be composted. Composting these wastes creates a product that can be used to help improve soils, grow the next generation of crops, and improve water quality.
What Is A Food Forest?
A food forest is an edible landscape that mimics a natural forest in form and function. Natural systems don’t require human inputs to flourish. Instead, the various species form a web of interconnection where they feed off each other and support each other in a closed, sustainable system. In these systems each plant serves more than one function (i.e. accumulating nutrients, producing mulch, attracting beneficial insects etc.).
When we design and plant a food forest our goal is to create a system that produces food, habitat and medicine while requiring very little human input.
Layers Of A Food Forest
Just like in an actual forest, a food forest has many layers with different species of plants inhabiting each layer. For example, tall trees create a canopy layer,providing shade, harvesting water (from fog), producing mulch and creating a sheltered area in which other plants can grow.
Below the canopy is an understory layer of smaller trees and shrubs, which provide structure for climbing plants and vines. The food forest floor is home to groundcovers, herbs and root crops.
Each species within this system inhabits a specific niche but serves more than one function.Some plants produce a food crop while also fixing nitrogen in the soil. Other plants produce edible or medicinal leaves while also sending down a deep taproot that breaks up the soil and draws up nutrients to the surface.
- The Canopy Layer of the food forest usually consists of large fruit trees and nut trees.
- The Understory Layer consists of dwarf fruit and nut trees.
- The Shrub Layer often has berries and currents.
- Vines such as grapes,create a vertical layer as they climb the shrubs and trees.
- Perennial Herbs and Groundcovers fill in the forest floor, shading out weeds and providing culinary and medicinal benefits. These herbaceous plants also attract beneficial insects. Even annual vegetables can fit in here.
- Root Crops such as Daikon Radish break up the soil allowing water to infiltrate.
A guild is a grouping of 3 or more plants that have a beneficial relationship. The classic example is the “Three Sisters” corn, beans and squash. In this guild the corn provides structure for the beans to climb; the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, which feeds the corn and squash, and the squash shades the ground, helping to keep it cool, moist and free of weeds, while also producing mulch.
A food forest can be made up of many different plant guilds which come together to form a productive, resilient and (mostly) self-sustaining system.
Although the goal is to create a self-sustaining landscape, certain inputs are needed. The initial purchase of fruit trees, shrubs and perianal plants is the major input. Ongoing watering via drip irrigation will be needed to sustain the plants, especially in the early years as they get established. All gardens require some maintenance, depending partly on the desired aesthetic. However, ongoing maintenance can be kept to a minimal using the “chop and drop” method (laying cuttings down in place, which produces mulch and returns nutrients into the system).
With situationally appropriate design, the end result is a low-water-use landscape that produces food, fiber, medicine and habitat while building topsoil and increasing biodiversity. Compared to a grass lawn, which is essentially a monoculture and requires a lot of water, synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and oil, a food forest is an earth-friendly, eco-groovy amalgamation of multi-functional fecundity and delight.
More Than Just Food
Beyond just producing food, a food forest can also provide habitat for wildlife as well as fuel, fiber and medicine for humans.
The structure of a forest landscape can create an enchanting, natural-feeling space, which can be a welcomed contrast to the one-dimensional landscapes that often fill our neighborhoods.
Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke
Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway
Premaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
Learn from others: Local Sonoma County chef, Steve Rose, has owned and operated Sonoma County-based Vineyards Inn for 35 years and the restaurant composts 100% of its food waste through an on-site in-vessel Earth Tub composting system. Another model for commercial-scale composting is the vermicomposting system at Sonoma Valley Worm farm, which Steve explores on his program, The Organic Rose.
We’d love to learn how other great local businesses are composting their organics. Please share your stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Install a compost system: Alamada County-based public agency Stop Waste has developed a great resource guide, How to Compost at Work, which takes businesses through a step-by-step process of auditing their waste, choosing a system, identifying a coordinator, creating a maintenance plan, and troubleshooting.
Inspire composting actions & engagement: The Community Resilience Challenge team would love to work with businesses to help customize your Challenge actions around composting! Contact us at email@example.com
As of July 1st, 2015 100,000 tons of organic materials produced within Sonoma County (which used to be composted in-county by our beloved Sonoma Compost…) are now being exported to three neighboring counties: Mendocino, Solano, and Marin. Learn more and get involved with the Compost Coalition of Sonoma County which grew out of this crisis.
You can do your part by keeping your organic stream (aka the “greens” – woody debris, kitchen scraps, and weeds) out of the green can!
Here are a variety of options to consider:
- Vermicomposting: Utilize worms for processing kitchen scraps (download pdf). One “daily actor” even created a “Worm Tub” by converting an old bathtub into a worm composter!! You can source your worms from any neighbor, friend, community composter that already has a worm bin.
- Woody Debris Hugulkultur Beds: Check out this amazing ‘Hugulkultur How-To’ from our friends (and 8th and Bee Homestead and Resilience Guild founders), Tiffany and Jaimey and learn how to build your very own water-saving beds for woody material.
- Create habitat: For stumps and logs, why not build or create something beneficial and beautiful with them – check out this great resource on Insect Hotels. While you’re at it, maybe you’ll get inspired to make yourself a fort or a sittin’ stoop out of that woody stuff too.
- Keep the Cardboard: And while we’re on it, keep your cardboard out of the blue bin too. You can build soil by repurposing those cardboard boxes into sheet-mulching materials at home and in your neighborhood. Let’s become cardboard box reclaimers!
Q: What about rodents?
A: Here are some good strategies to try to keep your bins from attracting too many disruptive critters:
- Elevate your bins so there is a gap beneath the bottom of the bin and the ground
- Use rodent traps (no poison of course) and then compost the little critters
- Position your bins in open areas away from sheds and fence-lines, to minimize hiding places
- Use a secure vermicomposting system with a lid to pre-compost kitchen scraps so they don’t become an attractant
- Got other good ideas? Let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: I’ve got a bad back or I’m just plain too busy – do I need to turn my compost pile?
A: Try a combination of vermicomposting for the kitchen scraps and hugulkultur for the larger woody debris and carbonaceous materials. The worms will do the work of decomposition for you, while the larger pieces will naturally break down over time in your hugulkultur beds, feeding your soil while saving your back!
Got more FAQs? Email us at email@example.com
The organization West Coast Climate Forum has put together a great Challenge to help you reduce your food waste — by starting with measuring how much you waste! This exercise can be a fun way to help your whole family become more aware of the amount of food that you waste at home, so that you can all take action to reduce wasteful practices.
Take the action “Plan a weekly menu to avoid food waste (and save money!)” under “Reduce Waste” section of the Community Resilience Challenge.
The four major principles of Carbon Farming at home – modified and summarized from the more comprehensive and excellent The Climate Friendly Gardener guide from The Union of Concerned Scientists:
- Reduce Your Inputs! Most of what we buy in the store has embodied carbon emissions due to the manufacturing of that input – try and identify what “waste” streams you can access in your neighborhood instead of store-bought inputs. For example, cardboard from your neighbors’ recycle bin, seaweed boas after a day at the beach, fish bones from your local fisherman, the sky’s the limit. You’ll save money and reduce your footprint!
- Mulch, mulch, baby: Mulch is the answer! Got leaves that your neighbor sweeps up and puts in the green can? Snag ‘em to mulch your garden! Keep bare soil covered at all times to prevent it from losing moisture – this will also prevent carbon in the soil from oxidizing. Over time, you will see that this will drought-proof your garden and increase the humus content and productivity of your soils.
- Perennialize: Trees and shrubs have a natural ability to transform atmospheric carbon – in addition to helping pump sugars into the soil, they grow “woody trunks” which store above-ground carbon! The more of these you have in your garden, the better (plus, they create great habitat for the birds and the bees). Perennials are also often grown in no-till systems, which maintains and fosters essential habitat for ground-nesting bees and other beneficial animals. Transitioning your garden to a perennial “food forest” will help to reduce the amount of time spent on maintenance and you’ll be able to spend the majority of your time harvesting from your established plants!
- Compost! Since the closure of Sonoma Compost, Sonoma County’s organic materials are being shipped out of county, so it is even more critical that you compost at home! Already compost? Help a neighbor start their compost system. Get involved in the Compost Coalition of Sonoma County and visit their Facebook page.
- Monitor: Test your soil regularly and check out Jeff Lowenthal’s book “Teaming with Nutrients” (available at the Petaluma Seed Bank) for more detailed information on nutrient management. The gist of it is, you need to get to know your soil to be the best soil steward possible. Soil tests can also help you track any soil carbon increases. Another great resource from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ is their Citizen-Science Protocol for taking soil samples.
Water-wise isn’t just about using less water, it’s about being really smart with the water we do have, especially the free kind that comes right from the sky. As evidenced by the memorable storms of this winter, rain events are predicted to become more severe and less frequent in our area, meaning that we’ll receive occasional surges of valuable but potentially destructive water. How can we re-vision our developed landscapes to more effectively utilize the gift of rain?
Here are three methods for DIY rainwater catchment that can make you a water-wise warrior and a model to your friends and neighbors.
1) Slow it’ with rain catchment systems
The simple installation of rain barrels, tanks or cisterns off of your home’s rain gutters is becoming a relatively mainstream concept, with information and materials readily available in your local hardware store. There are many ways to go about designing your system so that is can effectively store a whole season worth of rain, or just individual rain events. Depending on your storage capacity this free water source can be used for irrigating your landscape during dry months, reducing both your water bill and perhaps your guilty conscience at the same time. To give you a sense of how much rain you can collect: a 1000 square foot roof will shed 600 gallons for every inch of rain that falls!
2) ‘Spread it’ with mulch applications
The unsung hero in the garden landscape; mulch provides numerous benefits besides the aesthetically pleasing ‘finished look’. Adding a layer of mulch to your garden can help cut down on erosion, minimize compaction of soil during heavy rain events, maintain soil temperature, replenish organic content of soil as it breaks down and prevent weed growth. In the case of organic mulches like woodchips, having a high water-holding capacity creates an additional storage space for excess water until it can be taken up through soil and plants. Generally applied to lawns, sheet mulching is a process by which compost, cardboard and woodchips are added to the landscape in thin layers creating more surface area to spread and capture rainwater on-site, while reducing weeds and increasing soil fertility as it decomposes.
3) ‘Sink it’ through rain gardens and bio-swales
The addition of rain gardens and swales in your landscape offers two, simple ways to increase stormwater capture and recharge our aquifers. These designed, low depressions and channels create a holding place for water to collect and sink rather than runoff over heavily saturated soils or impermeable surfaces. While both of these features can function well with a dry, riverbed look, incorporating water-wise plantings will increase both the aesthetics and the benefits. The use of native plants in particular can provide much needed habitat, slowing the water and acting as bio-filters for harmful pollutants all at the same time. Be sure to place plants best suited to wet conditions in the center, moving from seasonally wet preferences into dry conditions towards the edges for best results.
Where do you find the resources to make all your conservation dreams come true?
Many of our local municipalities in Sonoma County have incentive programs to help residents reduce water use both inside and outside the home. Programs like Petaluma’s ‘Mulch Madness’, (which delivers cardboard, mulch and compost to your door for free!), Cotati’s ‘Cash for Grass’ and Windsor’s ‘Efficiency PAYS’ program all provide incentives to reduce outdoor water use. The City of Santa Rosa’s ‘Green Exchange’ program also offers similar programs along with a rebate for installing a residential rain catchment system.
If you’re looking to grow your skills and gain some hands-on experience or guidance before taking the plunge, Daily Acts offers workshops throughout the year on rain catchment system design and installation, rain gardens, bio-swales and sheet mulching.
Download the official ‘Slow It. Spread It. Sink It. Store It!’ booklet (PDF)
Did you know the average family of four uses 5,000-8,000 gallons of water annually in their washing machine alone? If 100 families installed a simple Laundry-to-Landscape graywater system, we could save 500,000-800,000 thousand gallons of water a year and put that precious water into our gardens instead of sending it the waste water treatment plant.
Daily Acts’ aim is to mobilize and support the installation of hundreds of graywater systems in Sonoma County. Are you in???
- Save water–depending on your water usage, your family will save thousands of gallons of water each year
- Save money – we will teach you to use the water that you’ve already paid for, again!
- Enhance Safety – your laundry will be safer for your family and the environment by using plant-friendly detergents and cleaners
- Create Beauty – you will increase the beauty and bounty of your home gardens, by irrigating with grey water
- Build Community – build community by working together with neighbors and friends on your graywater installation!
- Build a Movement – get educated, engaged, and trained to share the goodness with others.
Laundry-To-Landscape (L2L) System Overview
California plumbing code defines graywater (no difference if spelled with an e) as wastewater generated from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines. Though all of these sources represent great opportunities to transform waste to resource, the Laundry-to-Landscape system is the simplest, most cost-effective, and does not require a building permit, making it an excellent place to start!
No, the simple Laundry-to-Landscape system does not require a permit. For more complex systems like your shower and bath (often referred to as a “branched drain system”) you will require a relatively straightforward plumbing change permit from your building department (often ranging in cost from $50-$100).
No. The code does not permit storage of greywater from simple Laundry-to-Landscape systems. Storing graywater requires a permit and filtration, which adds cost and complexity to the system.
Yes, here is the list of some graywater-savvy local landscape and plumbing contractors who can install your system so that you can be part of this 100 Graywater System Challenge!
No. In the State of California, water from dishwashers and kitchen sinks is not considered to be graywater due to potential pathogens. That said, there has never been a documented case of illness in the United States linked to graywater. Nonetheless, there is the potential for pathogens and water-borne diseases so the 100 Graywater Systems Challenge is committed to providing engaging, informative workshops to make sure that graywater systems are installed safely and properly.
Just about any woody perennial works! We recommend fruit trees, berry bushes, and perennial vegetables (like artichokes). You can also irrigate annual non-root vegetables like corn and beans as long as it does not come in contact with the edible part of the plant. Avoid acid-loving plants like blueberries, rhododendrons and ferns.
Other Great Sources of Info
The Mason Jar Test – Soil Composition
A home soil composition test is the best way to determine what your soil is made of and how it will perform in regard to infiltration rates and nutrient availability.
Follow these simple steps to conduct your own soil composition test:
- Use a clear, clean, empty jar with a tight lid. A pint or quart Mason jar works fabulously.
- Fill the jar about half full of garden soil.
- Fill the jar nearly to the top with water. Leave room for shaking.
- Tighten the lid and shake the jar for several minutes so that all the particles are in suspension.
- Set your mason jar soil test aside for several hours, so the particles have a chance to settle. They will separate into clay, silt, and sand layers.
Reading the Results of your Soil Composition Test:
A home percolation test is a simple way to measure how quickly your soil drains and to determine how much area you need to infiltrate the rainwater during a major event.
Follow these simple steps to conduct your own percolation test:
- Dig a 6″-12″ deep hole in your future swale area.
- Place a ruler (or stick marked in inches) in the bottom of the hole. The measuring device should reach the top of the hole.
- Fill the hole with water several times to saturate the soil. This may take several hours or overnight in clay soils.
- Note the time. Fill the hole with water. When the hole is empty, note the time and calculate the time needed to drain the hole.
- Convert this rate to minutes per inch (divide the minutes by inches- 120min/5 inches is 24min/in)
- Find your percolation rate on the chart below.
Collecting rain from the roof of your house is easy, practical and can provide long-term savings on your water bill. Rain catchment also reduces the amount of runoff that flows into creeks and storm drains, easing the burden on wastewater treatment plants and reducing the amount of pollutants washed into local streams and rivers.
With California’s seasonally wet climate, rainwater catchment can help stretch the wet season well into the summer months.
Types of Tanks and Barrels
Rain tanks and barrels are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes. Some are designed to stand flat against the house, some are round and some are like giant bladders that can rest underneath a porch or in an old swimming pool. Rain can also be stored in tanks underground.Keep in mind that for tanks over 5,000 gallons you’ll need to get a permit before installing.
Although the prices are coming down, rain collection systems are still relatively expensive. For most systems, you can expect to pay about $1 per gallon of storage. Some systems are more expensive than this while it is also possible to set up low cost systems using recycled food storage barrels.
How Many Gallons Should You Collect
The size of your collection system will depend on how much space you have to put tanks, how big your budget is, how big your roof is and what your water needs are. Each situation will be different so it is up to you to decide how big you want to go. If you have the space, the money and the need for a lot of irrigation water, than a big collection system would be right for you. But starting small is a great way to go, especially with modular systems, which can be expanded over time.
Roof Materials and Health Concerns
Most roofs are safe for collecting rainwater, but there is potential for leaching from some roof materials. This is mainly important for collecting drinking water (which is not legal in California) but might be a consideration if you are using the rainwater to irrigate vegetables. There is no consensus about which roof materials are best (or worst) but brand new roofs can leach more pollutants than older, weathered roofs.
Roofs that are close to busy streets or large vineyards can collect car exhaust or pesticides from spraying, but a first flush system (see below) can be easily installed to shed any polluted water.
First Flush System
If your roof tends to accumulate leaf litter and other debris, then a first flush system can be installed to divert the initial flush of water that comes off the roof in a storm, keeping the rain tank free of debris, pollutants and harmful bacteria.
The first flush system is essentially a mini collection system, which fills up first, before allowing the rainwater to flow into the rain tank. Once the first flush system is filled, a floating ball plugs the inlet, allowing the rest of the rainwater to go straight to the rain tank.The first flush system should be drained between major storms or if a lot of new leaf litter or pollutants have collected on the roof.
Calculating Catchment Potential
Total Catchment Potential (gal)= A x R x 7.5 gal/ft3
The amount of water you can collect is determined by the catchment area and the amount of rainfall. The calculation that is most often noted is that you can collect about 600 gallons of water from one inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof. To determine your collection potential, first estimate the square footage of the roof you’ll be collecting from, then plug that into the following equation.
- A = catchment Area in square feet (see formulas for different shapes)
- R = annual Rainfall in feet = annual Rainfall in inches / 12
- There are about 7.5 gallons per cubic foot
Irrigating with Rainwater
The easiest way to irrigate with rainwater is to hand water by filling up a watering can from the spigot on the rain tank or attaching a hose to the rain tank. You can also attach a soaker hose if you have enough pressure (hint: drill larger holes in the soaker hose to reduce the need for a high pressure system).
Rainwater can be run through drip irrigation but you’ll need to install a pump to get the appropriate pressure. This set-up works better with a larger rain tank, rather than smaller barrels.
Overflow and Safety
An overflow pipe should be installed, directing excess water to a rain garden, a swale or to a storm drain if necessary. For earthquake safety rain tanks and barrels should be strapped to the house to keep them from falling over in the event of an earthquake.
Additional Resources and Readings
Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond – Brad Lancaster
There’s no better place to start localizing the food system, saving water, and building community than in the landscape right outside your door! The following Daily Acts’ favorites are Sonoma County adapted plants that can help transform your landscape into a luscious, edible playground while saving thousands of gallons of water per year as compared to conventional landscapes.
Persimmon trees display splendidly colorful fall foliage and then drip with brilliant orange fruit like Christmas ornaments on bare branches in the winter. There are two main types: astringent varieties such as ‘Hachiya’ which are meant to be eaten gushy ripe but will dry the mouth if eaten too soon; and non-astringent varieties such as ‘Fuyu’ which can be eaten crunchy as an apple. Drying the unripe astringent fruit eliminates the mouth-puckering effect.
A relatively unknown shrub, Chilean Guavas have small, glossy, evergreen leaves and produce tiny fruit high in fiber and vitamins that can be eaten whole. This is a great edible substitute for common box hedges and an ideal grazing food for children. It can tolerate salty maritime air but prefers shelter from the wind. While it is drought tolerant it produces best with regular light watering and thick mulch to hold moisture.
Imagine a garden that is thriving during the drought, bursting with colorful blooms, delicious fruit, the melodies of song birds, and healthy bees. The following landscape elements will help ensure that your garden is slowing, spreading, and sinking as much water as possible rather than wasting it and causing runoff. The result? Lush gardens that use less to do more.
THE RIGHT PLANTS
Every water-wise garden needs the right plants grown in theright places. Native plants are always a good choice, as theyare adapted to California’s seasonally dry climate. Many non-native plants from locations with similar Mediterranean climates will also do well. Arranging plants so they have appropriate shelter from drying winds and hot afternoon sun can also help reduce water requirements. Hardy perennial food plants provide multiple benefits, and even annual fruit and vegetable plantscan be grown with water efficiency in mind. See our ‘Water-wise Plants we Love’ resource for more details on good selections for your water-wise garden.
Increase the living sponge of your site with a thick layer of mulch. Mulch reduces erosion, slows evaporation and builds better soil over time. Better soil (ie. soil with more organic matter) in turn absorbs and holds more water. A nice layer of mulch also creates a prime canvas to display your gorgeous plants. Cover any bare soil with fallen leaves, wood chips made from tree trimmings, or rice straw. Just be sure that mulch isn’t piled up around the stems or trunks of plants.
Swales are essentially thoughtfully designed ditches that enable rainwater to slow, spread and sink into the soil. Capturing water in the soil is the cheapest and easiest way to harvest large amounts of rain, hydrating your landscape and recharging groundwater. Rain gardens are one form of swale. Berm and basin swales, built along the contour of a hill, help infiltrate water flowing down a slope and create a lens of water underground available to plants downhill. Infiltration basins can be either deep narrow ditches or simply holes, which are then filled with mulch to help hold water on flatter surfaces. Much more detail about swales can be found in out rainwater harvesting resources.
Remove hardscape to maximize rain absorbing garden space. Permeable pathways of gravel, mulch, and even brick allow more water to soak into the ground. Consider installing permeable pavers or vegetative planting strips in place of concrete in driveways or plant rain gardens in parkway strips along sidewalks to increase permeability and reduce runoff at your site.
Forget sprinklers. A simple system of tubing and emitters delivers the right amount of water right where it’s needed. You can also easily convert a sprinkler head to feed your drip system, which makes setting up irrigation for your lawn-to-garden transformations very simple. An automatic timer can be added to ensure consistent watering. If you don’t have an irrigation system, get in the habit of hand watering. Either way, you’ll use less water and get better results because you’ll be giving each plant just what it needs.
RAIN TANKS AND BARRELS
Did you know that over 600 gallons of water can be captured for every 1” of rain falling on a 1000 ft2 roof? That’s a lot of water, even in a dry year! Rain tanks and barrels use your gutter system to harvest the precious gift of rain, preventing waste, erosion,and flooding. With tanks and/or barrels, you can hold on to the ample water that lands on your roof and then release it slowly into your landscape through irrigation, keeping your landscape looking lush well into the dry season
A great way to supplement landscape irrigation is by reusing the gently used water from your laundry machine, shower, and/or bathroom sink. Greywater is perfect for watering trees, shrubs, and even smaller annuals and perennials, and is easy to set up. Laundry systems do not even require a permit in most CA cities. Appropriate soaps are easy to come by, and the system is very easy to turn off if you ever wanted to. Greywater helps you get double duty out of the water you’ve already paid for, and reduces the need for fresh drinking water for irrigation. Lots more info is available in our greywater resources.
Harvest More Rain in the Landscape with Rain Gardens
A rain garden is a garden which takes advantage of rainfall and stormwater runoff in its design and plant selection. Usually, it is a small garden which is designed to withstand the extremes of moisture and concentrations of nutrients, particularly Nitrogen and Phosphorus, that are found in stormwater runoff. rain gardens are sited ideally close to the source of the runoff and serve to slow the stormwater as it travels downhill, giving the stormwater more time to infiltrate and less opportunity to gain momentum and erosive power.
With a planted depression or a hole, a rain garden takes full advantage of scarce resources with the opportunity to be absorbed, integrated, and saved.
Design Considerations for Rain Gardens
Rain Gardens are best placed near the source of runoff although with enough margin so as to not cause damage to the foundation of the structure. Here are some other tips to consider when designing your rain garden:
- Avoid damage to roots and foundations, place gardens a minimum of 10’ away from any structure or shallow-rooted trees.
- Maintain a3:1 or 2% slope until you reach the “edge” of the 8-12” basin, to allow water to pool and percolate, preventing erosion.
- Keep it away from your septic system and drain field, rights of way, and underground utilities or service lines to avoid damage and contamination.
- Place in in full or partial sun, so as to ensure evaporation in the event of excess water pooling.
Benefits of Rain Gardens
There are many benefits to the installation of a rain garden on your property, including increasing your property value. Here are a few more to consider:
- Reduce the amount of polluted stormwater reaching our rivers
- Filter pollutants such as oil, fertilizers, salt, pesticides, metals and bacteria out of runoff
- Promote infiltration and recharge of the groundwater table
- Reduce local flooding potential
- Conserve water
- Create diverse habitat for birds and butterflies
- Reduce landscape maintenance in terms of time and money
- Increase property value
Ideal Plants for Home Rain Gardens
Plants with deep fibrous roots tend to have a competitive advantage in a rain garden and provide the most cleaning and filtration benefits to the environment. Typical rain gardens are populated with natives or native cultivars because those are most well adapted to a locality. Listed below are a few great examples for our region to help you get started:
Carextumilicola- Berkely Sedge
Juncus patens –Common Rush
Muhlenbergia – Deer Grass
Stipapulchra – Purple Needle Grass (California State Grass)
Solidagospathulata- California Goldenrod
Mimulusaurantiacus – Sticky Monkeyflower
Epilobiumcanum – California Fuchsia
Lupinusalbifrons – Silver Bush Lupine
Sambucusnigra– Blue Elderberry
How to Create a Water-wise Habitat Garden (pdf)
While many gardens can be designed around attracting particular kinds of insects or birds, it is also easy to plan and maintain your garden in a way that is not selective but provides habitat and food year round for many migrating and stationary fauna. Be sure to consider the following when choosing plants and adapting practices to create a wildlife friendly garden.
What makes a flower attractive?
Pollen and nectar bring bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the flowers are attracted to flowers that provide them with a food source; plant selection for your garden should be based on the preferences of the bees and butterflies and take into consideration when and for how long the flowers bloom
Plant Native Species
While gardens can be a mix of native and non-native species, planting native species does have several advantages. Native species are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions making them easier to care for in a landscaped setting. Having evolved with native fauna over the years, putting native plants in your garden will provide food and shelter for native animal species, promoting biodiversity. In other words, if you want to attract native species of butterflies, bees and birds the best way to do it is by planting native plants.
Create Groups of Color
Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds will be attracted to a garden by a large patch of bright flowers; patches should be planted closely together- this cuts down the distance the pollinators have to travel as they fly between flowers and makes the pollination process more efficient
Use a variety of plant forms
Plant a garden with all types of plants: annuals, perennials, bushes, trees, herbs, vines and grasses. Choose plants that grow to different heights and forms, providing structure for habitat, those that form seeds and berries, are a variety of colors, shapes, sizes and blooming times.
- Gardens with 10 or more species of nectar and host plants attract the largest number of bees and butterflies
- If you are looking for a particular butterfly, choose plants that provide food and shelter for larval development to encourage butterflies to stick around and lay their eggs in your garden
- By having blooming throughout the spring, fall and summer seasons you will provide a continual source of pollen and nectar to native species of butterflies, bees and other insects which will in turn provide food for birds.
- Shrubs and trees are important to have in a garden because they provide night roosting spots and habitat for perching, eating, nesting and breeding for birds.
Take advantage of the sunshine: Sun is essential for butterflies as they are cold blooded insects and need to start the day off by warming in the sun. Planting nectar plants, placing large rocks and exposing areas of soil in sunny spots throughout your yard will provide inviting habitat for butterflies. Planting trees and shrubs can also help by providing wind protection as long as they do not shade out the flowering plants.
Low maintenance is a good thing: fallen leaves can provide both natural mulch for your garden and hiding places for insects a well as egg laying surfaces for butterflies. Avoid removing old branches or logs from the garden as these can also provide important habitat for beneficial insects and decomposers.
Leave areas of uncovered soil: Native bees tend to be attracted to less manicured gardens. Most solitary native bees which are ground dwelling will use these open spaces to make nests. Open areas in a garden can also provide warming areas for the butterflies.
Avoid pesticides: A healthy garden needs bugs. Many pesticides are toxic to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. By planting native plants in your garden you are providing additional habitat for beneficial insects that can help control pest populations in your garden.
- Planting hedgerows of certain species that are know to attract beneficials such as Baccharispilularis or coyote bush- over 250 species of insects use this plant, and Ceanothus ssp. will provide you with an army of insects as your first line of defense against predators like aphids. Native ground beetles make their homes in native bunch grasses by day and hunt for slugs at night.
Avoid pruning during nesting season: many birds will not revisit their nests after human contact, leaving their newly laid eggs behind. Keep our bird populations healthy by avoiding any large removal of branches on shrubs and trees from March- August each year.
2425 Old Adobe Rd, Petaluma
Broad selection of California native plants, meadow grasses and habitat friendly choices for sustainable garden environments, which use less water and require less maintenance.
California Flora Nursery
2990 Somers St, Fulton
Hours vary by season.
An unconventional nursery devoted to natives and habitat gardening that has an exceptional diversity of offerings with attention to local needs, conditions, and sustainability. Most plants are propagated and grown on site.
3995 Emerald Dr, Petaluma
Open Everyday 10-5
Specialty growers focusing on Perennials, Roses, Clematis, Rhododendrons, Grasses, Succulents and Edibles, as well as offering a wide selection of Pottery, Garden Furniture, Trellises and Gifts.
555 Irwin Ln, Santa Rosa
Open Mar-Oct: Tue-Sat 9-5, Sun 10-4
A family owned retail nursery that grows over 2000 different varieties of plants, ensuring a beautiful, drought tolerant, deer resistant and habitat friendly plant palette that is sustainable too!
2833 Old Gravenstein Hwy, (West of Todd Rd.), Sebastopol
Open Fri-Mon 10-5 or by Appointment.
Old school organically grown fruit trees, berries, grapes, herbs, and veggies- over 100 varieties. With large demonstration gardens of native, succulents, grasses and large specimen trees.
Harmony Farm Supply
3244 Hwy. 116 N, Sebastopol
Open Mon- Sat 7:30-6pm and Sun 8:30-5pm.
Committed to selling quality products Harmony Farms does not sell any synthetically compounded pesticides or fertilizers and believes that food, flowers and ornamentals can be grown organically without the use of toxic materials.
Luther Burbank Experiment Farm – Gold Ridge
7777 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol
Plant Sales every Weds 9-12
Open all year for self-guided tours. Docent led tours: call to reserve.
27235 Highway One, Tomales
Wed-Sat 10-4, Sun 11-4
A small retail nursery located in the northwest corner of Marin County, with a wide variety of native and non-native perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees, along with certified organic veggie starts in both spring and fall.
North Coast Native Nursery
2700 Chileno Valley Rd., Petaluma
Located in Chileno Valley, this nursery propagates regional California natives for water wise and sustainable landscapes, wildlife habitat and hedgerows, living roofs, and edible gardens. Seasonal hours and directions on website.
Occidental Arts & Ecology Center
15290 Coleman Valley Rd, Occidental
Propagating a wide variety of native, drought tolerant, edible and medicinal plants, sales occur in throughout the year in April, May, and August. Check the web site for dates and times for sales, other tours and classes.
Urban Tree Farm Nursery
3010 Fulton Rd, Fulton
Mon & Wed-Sat 8-5, Sun 10-5
Countless varieties of shrubs, grasses, vines, fruit and ornamental trees to consumers and landscapers. We deliver throughout the Greater Bay Area.
How to Harvest More Rain in the Landscape with Swales
A swale is a ditch that is dug on contour, meaning that it runs perfectly level across the landscape.
Swales are a great way to slow, spread and sink excess rainwater that would normally runoff.
Swales can be as big or as small as you like and should always have a spillway designed to shed excess water.
When a swale is dug out, the excavated soil is put on the downhill side of the ditch, forming a berm. This berm should be planted so that the roots help strengthen and hold the berm in place.
Swales harvest water which sheets downhill in a rainstorm and they can also be used to harvest water from downspouts or curb cuts.
Swales can be left as an open ditch or filled in with mulch.
Using an A-Frame to Measure Contour Lines
An A-Frame Level is a low-tech device that consists of three boards and a string with a weight on the end. You can use it to find contour lines.
To make an A-Frame Level
- Attach three boards in the shape of a capital “A” with two equal length legs
- Attach a string to the top of the “A” and hang a weight on the other end.
- Make sure the string extends beyond the crossbar of the “A”
To Calibrate an A-Frame Level
- Place the A-Frame on a level (or nearly level) surface and mark the spot where the two legs rest
- Let the string hang down freely until it comes to rest against the crossbar
- Mark the spot where the string rests against the crossbar
- Flip the A-Frame around so that the legs are in the opposite spots
- Let the string hang freely and mark where it rests against the crossbar
- The midway point between the two marks on the crossbar is the level line
- Mark this level line with a big mark.
Using the A-Frame Level
- Now that it’s calibrated, you can use the A-Frame to find contour lines.
- Mark the location of one foot of the A-Frame and move the other foot around until the string hangs against the level line.
- Mark where the second foot rests
- Swing the first foot around until the string rests against the level line, and mark where the foot rests.
- Continue to walk the A-Frame across the landscape, marking each spot with a flag or stick.
Calculating Appropriate Swale and Rain Tank Size
The first thing that needs to be determined in swale design is how much rainwater will be diverted into it. If rain water is coming from the roof surface through a disconnected down spout, then rainfall in gallons can be predicted with the following equation:
A x R x 7.5 gal/ft3 = Total Rainwater (gal)
- A = Catchment area in square feet (length X width)
- R = Rainfall in feet = Rainfall in inches / 12
- There are about 7.5 gallons per cubic foot
Remember: You can collect 600 gallons of water per inch of rain falling on 1,000 square feet of catchment surface.
Once the number of gallons entering the swale has been determined, you can use the following equation to determine how big your swale needs to be to hold the majority of the water during a high flow rain event:
Total Rainwater = A x R x 7.5 gal/ft3 vs.
Swale Volume (gal) = 0.5 depth (feet) x width (feet) x length (feet) x 7.5 gal/ft3
- A = Catchment area in square feet (length X width)
- R = Rainfall in feet = Rainfall in inches / 12
- There are about 7.5 gallons per cubic foot
- Factor in the number of inches received in a high flow event
Remember to take the results of your Soil Composition and Percolation Test into account, as these will affect the swales water holding capacity, if the soils are slow draining.
A few more things to note about sizing your swales. Most residential properties will not have enough surface area to accommodate a high flow event, so take the swale volume calculation with a grain of salt. Regardless, all swales will need to have an overflow option to allow for excess water to leave the system without compromising the integrity of your swales (i.e. erosion).
Sheet mulching is simple, natural, and effective at getting rid of your lawn and/or weed issues
Sheet mulching is a landscaping method used to build soil, prevent weeds, and retain water. It’s sometimes referred to as a mulch lasagna because compost, a compostable weed barrier such as cardboard, and mulch are layered over lawn (or any soil area). Sheet mulching is a variation on nature’s way of building soil by accumulating and breaking down organic matter from the top down, and it creates a prime canvas for planting.
Benefits of Sheet Mulching:
- Saves 12-25 gallons of water per square foot per year compared to a traditional lawn, depending on the type of plants used.Sheet mulching the average 1,000 ft2 lawn could save between 12,000 and 25,000 gallons per year!
- Suppresses weed growth
- Reduces labor and maintenance costs
- Improves nutrient and water retention in the soil and improve soil structure
- Encourages favorable soil microbial activity and worms
- Improves plant vigor and health, often leading to improved resistance to pests and diseases
Step 1: Mow, Edge, Convert Sprinklers
- Knock down or mow existing vegetation so that it lies flat. Remove only woody or bulky plant debris. Other organic matter can be left in place and will add nutrients to the soil.
- Edge the site, especially along hardscaping like sidewalks. This catches mulch spill over and prevents grass and weeds from reemerging around the edges. Edging should be ~5” deep (but can be more shallow around the base of trees) and should gradually slope back to the level of the rest of the landscape.
- Cap any sprinkler heads and convert one or more sprinkler heads to drip line irrigation if plants will be installed. Be sure to use a filter (often found inside the sprinkler conversion kit) and a pressure reducer to bring the pressure down to 30 psi.
Step 2: Plant Large Plants
If you have large plants (5 gal. or bigger), plant them before sheet mulching and then layer over the planting area, being careful to avoid piling compost or mulch around the trunk of the plant. Note: it is okay to sheet mulch several months before planting and then plant large plants later.
Step 3: Add a Compost Layer
Jump start the decay of weeds and grass by adding compost or manure at the rate of about 50 lbs/100 square feet (1”-2” deep). Optional: Soak with water to start the natural process of decomposition, especially if you’ll be planting soon.
Step 4: Lay down the Weed Barrier
The next layer, an organic weed barrier, breaks down with time. The barrier should be permeable to water and air. Recycled cardboard (available from bike stores, large appliance stores, Sonoma Compost, and a multitude of other sources) is best, but a thick layer of newspaper will also work. Two or three layers may be required to achieve an adequate thickness, especially if using cardboard rolls or newspaper. However, if the weed barrier is applied too thickly, the soil can become anaerobic. The weed barrier works by blocking light, so be very careful to avoid tears or holes. Overlap pieces at least 6” to completely cover the ground without any breaks, except where there are established plants you want to save. Work in small sections so that the wind does not blow your weed barrier away before you can weight it down with mulch.
Step 5: Add Mulch
Layer wood chip mulch at least 3” thick, but the thicker the better. Leave a generous opening for air circulation around the root crown of plants.
Step 6: Plant
Punch a hole or cut an X in the cardboard and place plants in the soil under the sheet mulch. Be sure the roots are fully in the soil, not just the mulch. Important note: Planting in a newly sheet mulched project can result in reemerging grass/weeds. It is advisable to predetermine your plant layout and remove the grass/weeds from the desired planting location. Alternatively, you can wait a season or more for the grass/weeds to compost before planting.