Thursday, May 21, 2015

What NOT To Do In a Drought

From the bean of Green Bean.

I'll bet when you clicked on this link, you thought it would be full of overly watered lush green lawns, hosed off sidewalks and water sprinting down the gutter.  Here is an obligatory photo.  Please do not do these things in a drought - or at all, ever.

There are a number of measures taken in the name of water conservation, however, that you really really should NOT do either.

1) Turn Off Fountains and Empty Birdbaths: California is recently full of empty birdbaths, idle fountains, and dry watering holes where thirsty wildlife once gathered. If a fountain has a recirculating pump - and most do, it hardly uses any water at all. Birdbaths take just a smidge. The water you capture while warming up your shower or kitchen sink will more than cover it. As we have paved over much of their habitat and drained streams and rivers for human use, certainly we can share a bit with our feathered friends.

Wonder how much birds really use fountains and birdbaths? One woman in urban Southern California created a small recirculating pond that offers migrating and resident birds a much needed respite. Be blown away by the astonishing variety of birds making use of her pond by checking out @terrydavit on Instagram. Or see photos of a Northern California fountain that has become a popular watering hole during the drought. 

Finches whoop it up in the bird bath. 

2) Let Plants and Trees Die: I have heard many people talking about which plants they should let die.  I'm all for letting your lawn die. Most trees, however, we should keep alive for wildlife's sake and because they provide shade, which reduces the need for water of nearby vegetation. Further, native plants and habitat plants (flowers for pollinators, brambles or hedgerows where the birds nest) should be preserved if at all possible. Urbanization and agriculture have destroyed and fragmented much of our natural landscapes. With the drought, wildlife are moving into urban areas in search of water and food. The least we can do is to provide forage and cover for the bees, birds, and small mammals that make it to our gardens.

3) Stop Growing Your Own Vegetables: If I had a carrot for every person who told me that they were not planting a vegetable garden due to the drought... Viscerally, this does not seem to be the right decision and I was pleased to learn that Sunset magazine agrees with me. They reason that we are less likely to waste food we grow ourselves and that it requires far less water to grow vegetables in our own garden than to grow them in a large farm setting and transport them to market.  So grow your own food - just do it smartly by heavily amending the soil, using drip irrigation or ollas, and mulching like mad. (More great tips on growing food in a drought here).

A thickly planted vegetable bed with living mulch, ollas, and micro-sprinklers. 

4) Buy Bottled Water: Did you know that "bottling water ... takes 30 to 50 percent more water than turning on the tap"? Much of that water is bottled right here in drought stricken California. While a bottle of water you buy at the store will not be added to your water bill, it does come from somewhere and wastes a lot of water to get to you.

A butterfly enjoying the dandelions and other weeds that comprise our unwatered lawn.

5)  Install Artificial Turf: Fake grass has become big business in California. It is perpetually green and requires no water.  It also provides no wildlife value whatsoever, is constructed with potentially toxic materials and comes with a myriad of health concerns. Just let your lawn die instead. We did and are left with a patchwork of dandelions and other weeds that work fine for kids playing but require no water.  Better yet, if you do not regularly use your lawn area for recreation, replace it with gravel or native plants. (Update: Please see the comments for a highly recommended technique for replacing your lawn).

Now that you know what NOT to do, what measures should you take to conserve water?  See how I expanded my garden but slashed my water use in half at 8 Ways to Save Water in Your Garden and add your own in the comments.

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden PartyMaple Hill Hop and Green Thumb Thursday.


Anonymous said...

All very wise ideas with one exception. If you let the lawn die and want to replace it.... use wood chips or similar coarse mulch. Gravel hold the heat and will eventually fill in with enough dirt to sprout weed seeds. Then people use toxic chemicals to rid it of weeds. If you have a thick layer of mulch (starting with cardboard underneath) all you need to do is give it a coarse raking to kill the few weeds that do sprout. Also, if you or subsequent homeowners want to add shrubs, they can plant in the mulch, and won't have an arduous and expensive job of getting rid of the nasty gravel.

Lynn Hasselberger said...

Great tips! Would love to pick it up for THe Green Divas blog!

Green Bean said...

@Anonymous - very wise words indeed!! I have used the cardboard trick elsewhere in my garden and attended a drought gardening class where they mentioned exactly the technique you shared. Thank you for offering up such great advise!

@Lynn - I would be honored to be featured on The Green Divas blog. :)

Betsy Escandon said...

Awesome post. I cringe every time I see fake grass. Why would anyone put plastic in their yard??? Love the reminders of what is worth expending water on.

Rachel said...

Excellent post! My lawn is dead but my bird-friendly fountain is off--might have to turn it back on now!

Jenny Bradford said...

I would totally xeriscape and get rid of grass altogether if I could!! I never realized that about fountains and birdbaths. I assumed those were outlawed in a drought. Interesting!

daisy g said...

What a great idea to reuse water from warming the sink or shower. Thanks for some great tips!

Anne said...

As we were leaving the farmers' market this morning, my daughter was whining to buy a bottle of water. I insisted that she would not die of thirst on the 10 minute drive home and tried to explain how incredibly wasteful it is to drink bottled water unless absolutely necessary. If we're on a long trip, I allow it as a backup, but we try to take our own stainless steel bottles as a habit. Great article!

Raghav Singh said...

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Green Bean said...

@Betsy - We need less plastic for sure - especially in gardens. :)

@Rachel - So happy you will be turning your bird friendly fountain back on.

@Jenny - Oh, would I ever xeriscape and ditch the dead lawn - if only our kids were a wee bit older. As to bird baths and fountains, non-recirculating fountains are banned but the rest is fine.

@daisyg - Thanks for visiting! I'm glad you appreciated the tips.

@Anne - Lol! I think my son and your daughter are cut from the same cloth. He is always desperately thirsty when bottled water is near.

Carole West said...

Having been through a couple droughts on our farm in Texas I can relate to what you're saying. Now were experiencing to much rain. I did implement a water collecting system where I can collect 200 gallons, course that doesn't go far when a drought hits. This is a good list of tips. Finding what works for your home and lifestyle is key. Hope you get rain soon!

Carole @ Garden Up Green

Green Bean said...

@Carole - Thank you for the comment. I have some rain barrels but, as you mention, they do not go far when it is a drought! I really want to figure out some greywater system or a large cistern, or both. Thanks for the well wishes on rain. Don't float away with all the rain you are getting. :)

LA Murano said...

This is a really great post. We live with small scale drought about once or twice a summer. We have a well. When it doesn't rain for a few weeks it can run dry. The thing is, we don't really have options at that point so we have to do all these things when we hit a dry spell! It usually only lasts a short time here though. Hopefully it'll end soon for ya'll!

Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope to see you back again this week!


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