Rain Barrels: Where Does All Your Water Go?

Hello garden community! Did you know, the average rainfall in the United States is about 15-25 inches per state a year. That’s a lot of rain! Now, let’s think. Some of that rain gets absorbed into the ground while some of it goes into our bodies of water. Yet, what happens to the rest of it? Well, it gets marked in the run off or wasted category of statistics, according to the EPA. After years of all that wasted rain water, it could add up. Now, there’s something that can save your rain water and help the environment and your garden. Wanna know the secret? It’s called a Rain Barrel!

A rain barrel is a container, which normally holds about 55 gallons of water, that is used to help catch and store rain that runs off your house or shed that would normally be lost in your storm drain. Here is what ours looks like!

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The barrels normally come with a twist off lid that locks in place along with a spout that can drain the water like a hose would. At certain locations, barrels can be customized to be smaller or bigger.

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People even go as far as to paint their rain barrels into cool designs to fit their outdoor setting or personality!

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Now that you’ve seen the fun side to rain barrels, let’s talk about the benefits that the barrels offer to you. Around 60% of our municipal water supply goes into keeping our lawns and plants growing healthy. By installing a rain barrel, you can lessen the amount of water that gets wasted during those rainy days. Rain barrels are also great for when there is a dry spell or drought in your area, therefore you plants will not have to suffer! For those of you who use insecticides or other repellents on your garden, using the water from you rain barrels leads to less water pollution from the water run off in your garden or lawn. Also if you use rain water, there are more natural nutrients in that water than the water used through a hose so it’s an all around win-win!

Rain barrels are pretty neat, aren’t they? Yet, there are also a lot of frequently asked questions that should be answered about rain barrels. A lot of people ask if rain barrels promote mosquito breeding but that is not true. Rain barrels are a closed water system that have no standing water, therefore no mosquitos would want to breed in that water. People also ask about connecting more than one rain barrel together, especially if they only have one gutter opening on their house that lets the water come out. If you drill a hole on the bottom of both barrels and link them with a hose and Teflon tape to create a seal, that should work just fine. Lastly, people always wonder if the rain is only safe for plants. A human or animal should not consume the water from the rain barrels because most of the time the water runs off the roof and into the rain barrels. Bacteria and other harmful things could be growing on your roof that gets into the water that would not be safe for humans and pets while it is okay for plants.

On that note, I will leave you with one of our interns, Ellen Underwood’s personally painted rain barrel. I hope you will consider this adjustment! Happy watering!

~Emily

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A Few Square Feet of Fathomless Beauty

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’re sure to be aware thall gardenat I always take the road of enjoying the little things. Of recognizing the joy and beauty in every little moment, and as sustainably growing food is my life’s greatest passion, I’m all about doing it right here in the garden.

The other morning, I awoke (much earlier than usual) to glittering sunlight dancing through my window. I smiled and yawned knowing it would be a blessed day, with the call to make my way out the garden the first and strongest feeling I had. And so, I hopped out of bed and went straight to my camera, attached a lens, and felt a shiver of excitement for how perfect the light was and how happy I knew the plants were to have such beautiful rays to soak up all day.

Boy was I right. The flowers and blossoms were fully unfurled, happy accepting lots of pollinator visitors. The leaves were buoyant and strong, and all the plants were basking in their potential: carrying hundreds of green fruits on the brink of ripening into heavenly goodness.

So here, for you, are some of my favorite shots from this day. And with that I want to remind you all to take a moment to be overjoyed by what you’ve helped create in your garden, of the incredible feat of each individual seed growing into incredibly delicious sustenance, and of your incredible feat of nurturing them into such success.

-With much green love,

Ellen

Zucchini Flower  Bean Trellises Bee birdnetting and berries broccoli butterfly baby community plots Cucumber flower dyes Echinacea + Butterflies! Rain Garden Garden Sunflowers hangin out Sunflower! Community Plots Peas Natives Spirals! Echinacea Sunflower sky three sisters Tomatoes Trelllis Watermelon Zucchini

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Permaculture and Sustainability: #2, Breakin’ Down

Using resources that are free and abundant makes sense not only for the health of the earth but also for your wallet. That why this opportunistic use is in an important aspect permaculture and sustainability in agriculture. We try to do this in every place and way that we can, from lasagna layering to:

Composting

is one of the most important things you can do in your garden. First of all, it keeps valuable resources out of the landfills they would otherwise waste away in. All of the plant waste that comes from your garden and kitchen can be turned into nutrient rich compost that can then be added on top of your garden and provide valuable nutrients to your plants that will help them grow bigger, better, and yield more. But not only plant and vegetable scraps can go in your compost. Eggshells and coffee/tea grounds which are considered “greens” (as well as vegetable/fruit wastes) , and paper, cardboard, newspaper, and even dryer lint, which are considered “browns,” can be composted as well. This brings us back to what I mentioned in last week’s post: “browns” (carbon sources) and “greens” (nitrogen sources) are both important in creating the best possible compost because it creates an important balance between these two necessary nutrients. And that brings us to how we compost here in the Albright Sustainable Garden:

Batch Composting

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There are three sites for composting here in the garden: two bins for weeds and diseased, a place for our community plot holders to compost their browns and greens (both pictured above), and our own three bin composting system (pictured below). Our three bin system has one bin to collect greens, one bin to collect browns, and a third bin to do the batch composting. Batch composting is a way of quickly creating compost by alternating layers of browns and greens. A layer of browns is put down first, then greens, and then it is lightly watered. These three steps are repeated until the bin is full, and the batch is ready for breakdown! At this point, the pile is turned every 7-10 days so that air and moisture is let into the center/bottom of the pile to promote faster decomposition. In addition, the moisture level is checked weekly and watered accordingly to maintain the consistency of a wrung out sponge. In 1-3 months, rich compost is created and ready to be put into the garden!

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Want a more in depth explanation and start to finish directions for batch composting at home? visit this link and start your very own system:

http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/compostingathome.pdf

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Permaculture and Sustainability in the Garden: #1, Keyholes and Lasagna

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Albright Sustainable Garden this, Albright Sustainable Garden that. You’ve heard it, we’ve said it, but looking back I realize we have yet to tell all you faithful readers what features in fact make the Albright Garden sustainable. As much as I encourage you all to wander your way to the garden for a personal tour and a taste of the incredible, deep purple blackberries ever so gracing our garden right now, I understand this is not feasible for everyone. And so, here is your very own virtual blog tour of our sustainability efforts in the garden. Each day I will add a new post delineating one or two of the sustainable practices we have here in the garden, so enjoy!

Since its conception and during the three years the garden has been up and running, sustainability has been at the forefront of our mission. It began with a keyhole design and lasagna layering:

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One of the main goals of permaculture design is to maximize space — makes sense right? By maximizing space you are able to produce as much as possible from a single area, making even the smallest spaces viable sources of food production. This is why a keyhole design was chosen for the garden. It makes the most of the available space while ensuring all beds are accessible for picking, planting, and tending. This is done by using U and T shaped beds so all spots can be reached, then filling in the space between them with circular plots.

Garden prepped in April  for the 2015 Season

But that’s not all. Our keyhole garden was not dug, but instead was built on top of the existing soil through a method called “Lasagna Layering.” This method has a lot of benefits. Instead of digging up and leaving bare the precious topsoil to be whisked away by wind and water erosion, we create our own soil. This is very important because topsoil takes thousands of years to build but can be washed and blown away in near moments. Another benefit is that it uses materials that may otherwise go to waste: cardboard, leaf waste, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and manure. Below is a good diagram of how lasagna layering works, but their ingredients differ a little from our garden’s. For us, the soil was built with an initial layer of manure for nutrients, then cardboard was laid down and sprayed with water to keep it flat and prevent weeds from coming up. From here, coffee grounds which are a great source of nitrogen were laid down, then leaf waste which is considered a “brown,” or carbon source, then more manure, then mushroom soil, then compost, then finally straw to keep the weeds away. These sources provide the necessary nutrients for the plants to grow effectively through alternating ratios of browns and greens as described in the diagram below. “Browns” are a carbon source and “greens” are nitrogen sources. Once layers are built, they break down and mix together to create nutrient rich soil that protects topsoil and recycles (usually free) resources.

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The Three Sisters: Effective Gardening

Hello garden community! It’s Emily here again. We recently had a community plot that was never assigned to a community member, so Ellen, Aly, and I decided to make use of it. We wanted to utilize the space we had to the best of our abilities, so we started doing some research. In the mist of our research, one of the community members (Cathy Myers) suggested the idea of the “Three Sisters” gardening method. Having never heard of this gardening style before, she educated us on the topic.

The name “Three Sisters” refers to the three crops, corn, beans, and squash, that the Native Americans believed only grew and thrived when grown together. Corn was the primary crop to eat, providing the most calories to the people, the structure for the beans, and the shade for the squash. So you would plant the corn to start then have the beans and squash planted a little after the corn grows. Now, with small space, it’s hard to plant these but you can do it effectively.

So, the minimum plot size you need for the Three Sisters is a 10 x 10 square. The designated plot should get a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day, prepped with lots of compost. The corn will need the nourishment since it deprives a lot of nutrients from the soil as it grows. Decide how many rows you want to make, depending on how many seeds you have then have the rows be a few feet away from one another. In those rows, start to make mounds about 2 -4 inches off the soil top like the picture below to improve drainage and soil warmth.

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When making the mounds, make sure the centers of each mound are 5 feet away from one another. The standard size mounds are about 18 inches in diameter and should be shattered in adjacent rows shown below.

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The mounds allow the crops to get the right amount of moisture and allow the environment of the crops to fit them. Then, plant 4 corn seeds in each mound about 6 inches apart.

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Wait about a week or so after this is done. When the corn is 4 inches tall, plant the beans and the squash. Don’t forget to weed before you plant. When you plant the beans, they should be in between two corn seedlings. You can see in the picture below.

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Now it’s time to build your squash mounds the same way you built your corn mounds. Just remember to put the squash mounds in between the corn and bean mounds. When planting the seeds, plant 3 squash seeds 4 inches apart in sort of a triangle formation in the mound, as you can see below.

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When the squash seedlings begin to grow in, just remember to thin them to 2 seedlings per mound! You will have to weed your mounds until the squash grow in but after that, you should be weeding a whole lot less!

So far, I’ve talked about how this technique can save you space but let me tell you some more fun facts as to why it’s better to grow this way! The three crops compliment each other when growing by producing nutrients that one another needs. While the corn provides structure, the beans provide nitrogen for the corn to thrive off of. This makes the soil rich in nitrogen and able to support more crops the following year. Squash also naturally produces a spinier stem so it will ward off predators from trying to eat the garden. Also, when the squash vines die along with the beans and corn, they become the perfect mulch for the soil for the following years! I hoped you enjoyed this gardening method! Here’s a picture of what a full-grown gardening plot of the “Three Sisters” look like. See you next time!

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Tips On How To Live Sustainably

Hello! Emily here again. In our lives, I know that it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. Quite frankly, the world we live in has taught us that it doesn’t matter what we use or how we use it. A lot of people I know waste valuable resources without a second thought. I want to educate people about some ways to live sustainability. But first, what is living sustainability? Sustainable living is living a lifestyle that causes the least about of environmental harm and uses the least amount of resources possible for one to survive. Since I’ve been trying to change how I live to help make this earth greener, here are some tips to live more sustainability!

  1. Recycle. There is so much wasted products just because people either do not recycle or do not know how to properly recycle. Here’s a quick list of things that can always be recycled; Aluminum cans, steel cans, newspaper, magazines and slick inserts, corrugated cardboard, paper and paperboard, plastics, and glass. Look up specifics for your local area.
  2. Reuse. In our everyday lives, there are products that can be used multiples times. You can reuse plastic bags, twist ties, envelopes, newspaper, cardboard, bubble wrap, jars, paper, etc. There are so many items that one can find a new use for, such as recyclable arts and crafts. The possibilities are endless.

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  1. Use plastic take-out containers instead of buying Tupperware. There bound to be some nights where you just don’t want to cook. One those nights you order take out, keep the plastic containers! You can wash them and reuse them to store your leftovers in. Not only does this save the environment, this also saves you money.

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  1. Buy a reusable water bottle instead of using plastic water bottles. This saves so much plastic. Plastic is non degradable, which means it never goes away. You can even buy a reusable water bottle with a filter in it if you want to drink filtered water.

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  1. Ride your bike or walk somewhere instead of driving. Maybe even public transportation! About 75% of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S. is from cars. Try to reduce that!
  2. Unplug your appliances after use. Even if you are not using the appliance, electricity is still running through it when it’s plugged in. Reduce the waste of electricity and always unplug your appliances if you’re not using them.
  3. Don’t constantly have your heat or air conditioning running. If you’re leaving your house, turn off the heat or air conditioning. You can open your windows on a cooler day in the summer and bundle up more in the winer. Also, Set your thermostat to 68° F in the winter and 71° F in the summer.
  4. Use LED light bulbs instead of fluorescent light bulbs. LED bulbs prevent electricity waste when compared to fluorescent light bulbs.

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  1. Line dry your cloths instead of drying them in a drier. Why use electricity when you can use the resources outside to do the same thing? The heat and wind from outdoors can just as easily dry your cloths like a drier.
  2. Take shorter showers and don’t let the water run when you’re brushing your teeth. An average household uses about 300 gallons of water a day. By reducing the water used, there will be less water wasted in our everyday lives.

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  1. Print on both sides of the paper! This reduces paper waste! In the U.S., each person uses about 749 pounds of paper in a year. Always use both sides of the paper.
  2. Buy locally rather than from grocery stores. If you buy locally, you can discuss how your food was grown. See if they used pesticides or non organics products. Most industry grocery stores are packed full of GMOs and other harmful chemicals.

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  1. Try growing your own food. One way to appreciate the food you eat even more is by growing it. You watch your hard work blossom into something so great and makes you want to continue to do better.
  2. Resell or donate things you don’t want. There are millions of cloths manufactured each day around the world while cloths that people don’t want are just being thrown out. Some people can’t afford new clothing while others are wasting it. This gives people with less money opportunity for new clothing.
  3. Think about composting! If you are really interested in this, follow this web link here to easily learn the how-to’s of composting! http://www.bbg.org/gardening/composting?gclid=CKuphYbsj8YCFQuFaQod1hsAcA

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  1. Use environmentally friendly cleaning alternatives instead of harmful chemical products. Water and vinegar mixed together is a great alternative to harmful cleaning product. One cup of water to one cup of white vinegar is a great window and floor cleaning alternative.
  2. Donate food before it goes bad. Don’t let food go to waste! 1 in 6 Americans are starving everyday. If you have a party or get together with a large amount of food leftover afterwards, donate it to your local shelter or volunteer center. They will be more than happy to take the food to feed the homeless.

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  1. Email documents instead of delivering hardcopies. Easily reduces paper waste. If a hardcopy is not needed, someone can just open the document on his or her computer to read and trees are saved in the process.
  2. Don’t eat meat once a week. Raising cattle puts a lot of strain on the environment. If you don’t eat meat at least once a week, one less animal will have to be slaughtered and replaced!
  3. Pass this message on! If you were educated on living sustainability while reading this, why not pass it on to educate someone else? One of the leading reasons for people not living a more sustainable life is because people just simply do not know how to. So help the earth and pass on some of these tips!

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Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy some simple tips to make this earth a greener place to live! Until next time.

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Sensory Garden at 13th and Union

by Aly Hutter

Before: Before

If there is one thing that makes me truly happy it would be the enthusiasm children have- While working with the 13th and Union elementary school we had the opportunity to plant a sensory garden. When I first saw the plot full of weeds I was beaming with excitement that I would turn this lonely little garden into a learning experience for many, many years. With a few ideas brewing, Ellen and I began planning. We believed a sensory garden would be a very good learning experience for the children because we would be able to use plants that would not only be appealing to look at but that would also serve as a learning experience about planting, gardening, senses and pollination for the children. Our goal was to make the garden a place that sparked excitement and allowed for learning outside of the classroom.
With the garden plans in the work we realized that there would be a slight struggle to find plants that would be easy maintain and that liked shade due to the large trees outside of the school near the garden. After many hours researching shade perennials that would also serve to invoke at least one aspect of the five senses was a challenge but worth every minute as our list of plants grew on my note pad! Ferns, Hydrangeas, Purple & cinnamon basil, Bee balm, Heavenly blue lithodora, 2 butterfly bushes, Spotted dead nettle (pink & purple), Japanese forest grass, Irish moss (Sagina subulata) and astilbe were all planted. All of these plants are perennials except for the basil. We purchased seeds of basil to be grown by the principal and planted into the garden each year!
Meeting the care givers of the 13th and Union sensory garden was very exciting – on their last full day of first grade we gave the grade very big news as we handed them the responsibility of this garden- with eager hands in the air,  many agreed that they would help their teachers take care of the garden and would keep an eye to make sure the garden was enjoyed, respected, and left to attract bees, birds, butterflies. I am very excited to see how the second graders enjoy the garden as it continue to grow.
The garden was planted with the touch and taste plants toward the front so the children would not have to step in the garden bed to feel the silvery-soft purple and pink spotted dead nettle and the carpet-like Irish moss (Sagina subulata). They will be able to smell the bee balm and taste the purple and cinnamon basil leaves with ease. The ferns and Japanese forest grass were placed on opposite sides in hope that wind blowing through the garden would create noise. The butterfly bushes and other flowering plants are a beautiful addition for sight and will attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators that will serve as a perfect experiential lesson for the students on pollinators and their importance.

After:

After

Now, the garden is all finished and soon to be a blooming forest of sensory, interactive plants for students and community alike to enjoy.

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