©Joe Medieros

Living Lightly

Gardening to save water: Native plants in your home garden


Few people in Modesto want to give up their front lawns, but I often wonder as I walk by: ‘who uses a front lawn?” I rarely see children playing on front lawns, though I certainly would encourage this. So, as I walk by my neighbors’ lush front laws, often seeing the excess water pouring off into the gutters, I wonder why. Is it to keep up with the Joneses, or just because you don’t know any better? This year, with a water shortage looming, we should start planning the gardens that don’t need so much water.

It is possible to give up a monocultural lawn and plant a drought-tolerant garden instead. But you have to plan ahead. Now is the ideal time to start. Getting rid of the lawn won’t happen just by stopping the water; you also have to poison it to get rid of Bermuda grass, (with which every lawn in the valley is infested). An alternative to poisoning is to wet your lawn, then cover it with plastic for six weeks. Digging it up comes next. A piece of Bermuda grass lurking there will be sure to rear its ugly head when you aren’t watching, and it will invade your carefully planted new garden.

If you want an area where native plants will flourish, start now, in spring. Poison your grass, let it lay a month or two (without water), dig it up and get rid of all the weeds too. Meanwhile, research what plants you want to use as replacements. Finding native California plants may take some looking. I had the advantage of advice from Carol Paras, a trained nursery worker, who knew where the plants were sold. (Occasionally there will be a native plant sale here, which may give you some ideas and starts).

I used Marjorie Schmidt’s Growing California Native Plants (complete with colored pictures) as my idea book. Visit other gardens containing native plants. Many plants native to coastal dry counties will grow here. You will have to water them until they are established, but not so heavily as you would a lawn (too much water will kill them). A mini-emitter water system takes the work out of it, if you don’t have time and energy to do it by hand.

Plant in fall, so that your plants get a good soaking during the winter rains and become established. Many wild flower seed MUST be planted in fall in order to bloom in spring (think California poppies). You can get A MIXED PACKAGE of California native flowers to fill in the spaces until your shrubs grow bigger. Plant bulbs too; it doesn’t matter if they are natives: tulips, irises, ranunculi can live happily while the shrubs you have planted get established.

Three small trees that have thrived at my home give shade now to some of the more shade loving plantings: lemonade berry, coffee berry, and spice bush. Shrubs that have lived ten years are salvia (sage of various varieties), Artemisia (sagebrush) and evergreen currant (Ribes viburnifolium).

I am the proud owner of a difficult to grow Carpenteria (tree anemone) which is a native of Santa Barbara County.

I invite you to tour my garden whenever you like; just come and walk the path surrounding the center planting. You will note that some are not natives, But you wont’ find any grass, except wild needle grass.

And finally, the bottom line: SAVE WATER! Follow your city’s laws detailing what days of the week it is legal to water. Save your allotment for the vegetable garden and eat healthy!

For another take, read American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn by Ted Steinberg, Norton, Pub.

Leafy greens and food safety


Edited from the Agrarian Advocate, newsletter of CAFF, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, P.O. Box 363, Davis California, 95617, http://www.caff.org/

After a history of recent disease outbreaks related to California grown fresh-cut processed spinach, lettuce, and salad mixes, feverish attention is being given to new requirements aimed at preventing future problems. Public health officials, regulators and industry organizations geared up. Hearings were held by the Legislature’s Committees on Agriculture. Following is the testimony given by Judith Redmond, president of CAFF (see the complete testimony at www.caff.org/policy/leafygreen.shtml):

Limit the Scope of the New Rules to Processed, Fresh-Cut Greens

“The sense of urgency around E. coli in leafy greens has resulted in an approach that does not target the most significant risks and mistakenly encompasses issues that are not risks at all. Our efforts should focus on the most common vehicle for produce-linked outbreaks: bagged salads and spinach.”

Foods that are grown to be bagged and sold in their raw form “ready to eat” need to be produced using good agricultural practices. Centralization of washing and packaging is major risk factor, since greens from many locations are chopped and mixed together. The product is then enclosed in a packaged environment that can reach high humidity and provide favorable conditions for microbial growth. Distribution nation wide vastly increases risk of contamination.

Industry standard for most fresh-cut salads is a shelf life of 15 to 20 days once the product leaves the processing plant. ….this is too long because even an inconsequential presence of the pathogen can multiply in this time into a serious dose. Committee members should consider reducing the allowable shelf life of bagged spinach and salad.

Committee members should also consider a requirement that bagged salads be labeled with the statement that the consumer keep the product refrigerated and wash it before eating. The “Ready to Eat” label is misleading.

Work on the Problem at its Source

Domestic cattle are the primary source of microbial pathogens like E. coli 0157. Tainted irrigation water is the most plausible cause of crop contamination in the field. We must develop methods to reduce E. coli 0157 infections. Crops for bagged salads should not be grown in fields that are at risk of contamination from nearby livestock grazing or feeding operations.

Don’t Dismantle the Public’s Investment in Environmental Stewardship

(in this section Judith Redmond describes the need to fund Conservation Plantings which include installation of buffer strips, filter strips and hedgerows , an effort to improve water quality, and reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. She also cites many studies showing that infection rates from wildlife are very low, “less than one animal in 1000.” “This misguided focus on wildlife diverts attention from much more important things. If conservation plantings are included as a food safety risk at all, we can assure you that many farmers will abandon their efforts and millions of dollars of public investment will be put at risk.”

COMPOST: Another good practice that may be mistakenly snared in these rules is the use of fully composted animal manures to improve soil health. We endorse provisions in the proposed regulation s to limit the use of raw manure.

FINALLY, if there is indeed an endemic problem with 0157 [E. coli] in surface water, the testing burden should not be borne by farmers alone. It is a public health responsibility. Testing of surface water for 0157 (not just generic E. coli) should be conducted and coordinated by public health officials with the results available in a public database.

Edited by Myrtle Osner and Jim Costello