Construct A Rain Barrel at Mobile Workshop

Future rain barrels

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, in partnership with the Coastal Alabama Clean Water Partnership and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, will hold a rain barrel workshop from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N, in Mobile.

Workshop participants will learn about important water quality and conservation issues and practical measures they can take to reduce their impact on coastal Alabama’s water resources. During the workshop, they will construct a rain barrel that will allow them to harvest rainwater for gardens, landscaping or other uses. They also will learn how to install the rain barrels at their homes.

To attend the workshop, interested individuals must pre-register with the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center office by Wednesday, Oct. 17.The registration fee for the workshop is $40 and includes all materials required to construct a rain barrel.

For more information or to register, contact Christian Miller, extension specialist with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant and the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center, at 251-438-5690 or Christian@auburn.edu.

More information about rain barrels and water conservation.

Weekend Project: Patio Container Gardening

A few weeks ago Elyse, Development Director at Mobile Baykeeper, shared the story of how she got started composting. Today she invites us into her backyard again to share her “container garden” farm. Make sure to read our post about windowsill gardening too!

My husband affectionately refers to my collection of pots on our deck as “the farm.”  I started “the farm” as a way to help my two grandsons understand that fruits and vegetables have to be cared for and do not just appear in the grocery store.  I wasn’t ambitious enough to want to care for a real garden plot so I started my farm in a variety of buckets, pots and containers.

I have had the most luck with tomatoes, potatoes, corn, green beans, Rainbow kale, lettuce, strawberries, Myer Lemon, and various herbs.

I have attempted several times to grow cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash and have finally given up.  Every year I will have beautiful blossoms and then some insect bores into the stem and everything dies.  Last year I planted all three in a large upside-down tomato planter, and I had a little better luck with my cucumbers. I still only got a few zucchini before the boring critter destroyed the plants, and didn’t get any yellow squash.  That is one group of vegetables that I will purchase locally.

The most fun have been the potatoes.  In fact, as you read this, I should be uncovering my Yukon Golds.  It will be fun to see how many I have this time around.  I was lucky enough to receive a potato grow bag but potatoes can be grown in black heavy-duty leaf bags or the bag that your growing mix (potting soil) came in as long as it has plenty of drainage slits.

Home-Grown Potato, in Potato Grow Bag

The Potato Grow Bag, from Gardener’s Supply, has made growing potatoes very easy.  Place the bag in a sunny spot where it will get 6 or more hours of sun each day.  Roll the sides down so the container is about 8” deep; fill with 4” of good potting soil; place 5 seed potatoes on soil and cover with 3” of soil.  Seed potatoes should be about the size of a lime and can be cut in half if very large.

When the potato foliage has grown to about 8”, unroll the turned over edge of the bag and add about 4 more inches of soil.  It is OK if some of the foliage is covered.  Repeat process until bag is full.

The joy of using the porous Grow Bag is that it is hard to over water.  The soil should be moist but not soggy and in the hottest part of the summer, you may need to water everyday.

Through last summer I watered, watched for beetles, and did nothing else.  I am glad I was warned that toward the end of the growing cycle that the foliage would wilt, turn yellow, and look terrible.  At this point, stop watering, wait another two weeks and then dig out your potatoes!!!  You can dump out the dirt and find your potatoes but watching my two grandboys dig for them is more fun.

Do you have the urge to become a container gardener? If so, I hope you’ll join me! The experience has been so fun, rewarding, and delicious.

Check out these resources to learn more and get started:

Little House in the Suburbs: Guide to Alternative Gardening

How to Plant an Outdoor Potter Herb Garden

Container Gardening For Food

Let us know in comments what’s growing on your patio! Make a difference!

 

UPDATE:

Check out the potatoes Elyse unearthed! The one next to the glove is the biggest one she has ever grown. The smallest one is about the size of her thumb. Congratulations, Elyse!

Yukon Gold Potato Harvest

Weekend Project: Plant A Rain Garden

Your future rain garden?

We have talked about stormwater several times this month, and for a good reason. Stormwater is a huge source of non-point source pollution, meaning pollution that enters waterways from many places and is difficult to pinpoint and quantify. It is also something that we, as homeowners, have the power to influence.

Because run-off water can become polluted from multiple sources, addressing it requires a multi-front approach. We have discussed the two main ways to avoid contributing polluted water to the world. Broadly they are:

(1) Don’t pollute the water. This means not putting chemicals or pollution in the water in the first place, and not putting pollution in the path of water.

We have already talked about several of these:

(2) Clean up the water. As water travels, it will always pick up pollutants, but we have several ways to clean it up before it reaches our waterways or groundwater. We have talked about Rain Barrels and the hydrological and ecological benefits they have. Today we are talking about rain gardens and the way they benefit you and the environment.

Nature is pretty good at filtering water. Plants soak up water, excess nutrients, and minerals, and can help break down compounds in the water. Different layers of soil help scrub water clean as it makes its way to natural reservoirs of surface or groundwater. All we have to do is make sure we give nature a chance to work its magic. That’s where rain gardens come in. Much like the rainwater collection system you use for a rain barrel, one of the ways you can set up a rain garden is by connecting a tube to your roof gutters that directs rainwater towards the garden. Once there, the plants will soak much of the water up as they need it, but they will also hold the water in place and allow it to infiltrate naturally into the ground, which is all it really wanted in the first place.

This brings us to a second important point about rain gardens: what to plant. There are many excellent guides out there about planning and planting a rain garden, and about selecting native species, which you can find below. The main thing to keep in mind is to pick plants that are (a) native to your area, and (b) will function well in a rain garden. Pick plants that thrive in wet conditions.

Finally, location is crucial. Consult the guides below and local master gardeners or green landscapers to make sure you are situating your rain garden in the best possible place for your yard.

Now go get started! What better way to celebrate Earth Day Weekend than by reinvesting in your yard and the world around you? This weekend promises to be beautiful, so let’s get out there and make a difference!

Also, check with local garden stores or extension services–many of them offer workshops on a variety of topics, including rain gardens! In Mobile in particular, check with the Auburn Extension, they have several rain garden workshops scheduled over the next few months. http://www.aces.edu/main/

Learn More and Get Started!

How A Rain Garden Works

How to Build A Rain Garden

Native Plants

Weekend Project: Composting: Why and How to Start

Elyse, the Development Director at Mobile Baykeeper, has been composting for about a year. Read her story to learn why she decided to start composting, and to see how easy it is for you to start too!

Elyse's Compost Bin

Why do I compost?  I could cite statistics that say landfills are running out of room but the truth is that in my house, composting means fewer trips to the outside trash can, less stink when I open it to put trash in, and the feeling of accomplishment because I am making free, healthy dirt for my patio garden!  An even better reason is that compost creates the basis for a wonderful garden; it holds in nutrients, water, and air; and it protects plants from many diseases commonly found in untreated soil.

For several years, I have planted a patio garden of tomatoes and herbs and every year I would head to the nearest big box store for potting soil.  Not a huge cost but why pay when I could create my own dirt? And so the idea for composting began.

I started by learning what you can and cannot compost.  Pretty simple really….if it is a plant, compost; if it is animal, do not.  You can check the links below for more complete lists of what you can compost but in general successful composting is about layers of green and brown.

The next decision was where to place the compost bin.  I picked a sunny spot in the backyard that has easy access to the kitchen.  What bin?  Well, that was a birthday splurge.  I purchased a black plastic, bottomless box type with a tight fitting lid and doors at the bottom where I should be able to easily scrape out my “black gold.”

Location is more important than the type of bin in my experience.  If it is easy to get to all year, then you are more likely to fill it and continue the care and feeding of your compost.

After the first few days of just salad trimmings scattered at the bottom of the bin, I was thinking, at this rate I would never make enough compost for even a small potted plant.   A few days later when we mowed the lawn, I wondered if all of that grass that just filled up the bin would ever break down.  However, in less than a week, my full bin had already reduced by half.  I was on my way to making my own rich dirt. I have now started collecting the coffee grounds from our office kitchen; they make a wonderful addition to my compost!

I am still learning more about my compost pile every single day. Just yesterday I learned that the fire ants that I thought were problematic were actually a sign that my pile may be a bit dry, and are also introducing new strains of fungi and bacteria to the compost. Wonderful!

I hope you’ll join me in learning and experimenting with home composting. It is very rewarding and has so many benefits, both for my garden and for the environment.

Together we can make a difference, one yard at a time.

Composting: The recipe!

Composting is like making good corn bread, dry ingredients, wet ingredients, stir gently and add generous amounts of love.

Dry ingredients = Brown layers like fallen leaves, hay & straw, shredded paper, sawdust.

Wet ingredients = Green layers are grass clippings, coffee grounds, fruit & vegetable peelings, weeds and plant cuttings.  As I mentioned before what you put in should be plant materials.

Compost needs the right amount of water and should feel like a wrung-out sponge; when you squeeze it, you might get a drop or two of water.  Too much moisture will cause the “cooking” temperature to fall and can make the pile smell.  Too little water slows decomposition and can also prevent the pile from heating.  Aeration is also important and is achieved by turning over the contents of the compost bin and by adding pockets of air.  Paper towel and toilet paper cardboard cores are perfect additions for those pockets of air.

Here are some good resources for filling and managing your compost bin:

75 Things You Can Compost But Thought You Couldn’t

Gardening Guide: Composting

Composting Guides and Resources

Weekend Project: Install a Rainwater Collection System

Image

This weekend’s project is installing a rainwater collection system. Maybe you have seen rain barrels in a neighbor’s yard, maybe you grew up with one. They come in a variety of shapes and styles, but the basic set-up is the same: the system is designed to catch rainwater that runs off your roof and store it for later use. Rain barrels are easy to set up, easy to use, and have a variety of benefits ecologically, economically, hydrologically, and horticulturally.

Why?

(1) Store Water. Rain barrels have been used for centuries to store up rainwater for times of water scarcity. They are especially helpful if you live in a region that is prone to drought or sporadic rainfall.

(2) Purest Water. Municipal (hard) water has chemicals added to it, like chlorine and fluorine, and other minerals. Rainwater does not contain as many contaminants and so is healthier for your soil and plants.

(3) Stormwater. Stormwater runoff  is rainwater that runs off of impervious (hard, non-absorptive) surfaces instead of filtering back into the ground. Impervious surfaces include parking lots, roads, driveways, and roofs. Instead of funneling water off your roof and out into the storm drains, you can divert water from your gutters into a rain barrel and use it to water your gardens, giving the water the chance to nourish plants and filter naturally into the earth.

(4) Free water. It seems obvious enough: rain water is free. What sort of savings can you expect from installing a rainwater collection system though?

  • www.rainbarrelguide.com estimates that an average-sized home uses 82,280 gal of water annually. To determine how much of this water you use in your yard, consult this guide.
  • How much does a rain barrel cost? Rain barrels/collection systems can range from $70-300. You can buy specific shapes and sizes to suit your needs and the design of your home and yard, you can find a service to install it for you, or you can make and install it yourself.
  • How much water can you collect with a rain barrel? For a house with a roof area of 40’x50x (2000 sq. ft.) the estimate is that you could collect around 1,200 gal annually. Consult this guide to calculate the water-collection capacity of your roof.
  • That’s 1,200 gallons less water that you need to pay for.

DIY Event

If you live in the coastal communities of Alabama, you can make your own rain barrel next Wednesday, April 11th! The cost if $40 to participate, and you will take home a ready-to-use rain collection barrel. Check out the flyer for more information, and if you’re interested, be sure to register by Monday, April 9th. Two Baykeepers will be attending to make our own rain barrels; we hope to see you there!

Check with university extensions, local non-profits, and home and garden stores in your area to see if they are hosting rain barrel workshops!

Let’s Make A Difference

As always, send us a picture of your rain barrel, or comment below, and we will enter you in our weekly drawing! Everyone is eligible because everyone makes a difference! The first drawing will be done on Monday, April 9th, we will contact you that morning if you win.

Helpful resources

A Guide to anything you could want to know about rain barrel/catchment systems:

http://www.rainbarrelguide.com/

A good overview from the University of Minnesota Extension:

http://www.lakesuperiorstreams.org/citizen/3-08%20Rain%20Barrels%20Brochure%20(final).pdf

A DIY guide to making a rainwater collection system:

http://www.familyhandyman.com/DIY-Projects/Green-Home/Saving-Water/how-to-build-a-rain-barrel