Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meadow Ecology Slideshow, Lecture & Walk - May 28th

Bristoe Station Battlefield is home to a complex meadow ecosystem. Join naturalists, Cliff Fairweather, from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and Charles Smith from the Prince William Wildflower Society (VNPS) on May 28th for a slide lecture on the benefits of native habitats.

Next follow Cliff and Charles on a walking tour of the 133-acre battlefield and learn about the beneficial wildlife especially the birds and butterflies that call this ecosystem home. Learn to identify the plants that these birds and butterflies need for food and shelter. Bring binoculars. Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress for the weather. No pets please. Advanced reservations recommended and can be made by calling 703-366-3049.

 The slide lecture will be held at Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre , 12229 Bristow Road, Bristow Va at 8:30 am.

The walking tour departs from the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park kiosk in the parking lot located at Iron Brigade Unit Ave and 10th Alabama Way at 10:30 am.

 Lecture: 8:30 am – 10:00 am; Walking Tour: 10:30 – Noon.; $7 per person, free for children under six.

Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre and Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park are managed by the Prince William County Division of Historic Preservation.

For more information, please call (703) 366-3049

Rain barrels, like fingernails, are for function, not fashion

On May 15th, I posted a question asking why more people don’t use rain barrels. The responses have been overwhelming and have given me some good food for thought. I have to admit, though, that I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to respond. Here’s why:

First, I’m a real “natural” gal and a real natural gardener. I’ve never had a professional manicure in my life and I guarantee that no one will EVER call my landscape “manicured”. So I can’t relate a WHOLE lot to the people who said they won’t get a rain barrel because they think they are ugly. In my mind, rain barrels are more for function than fashion – kind of like fingernails – so ours are fairly plain and usually a little dirty. But, like fingernails, rain barrels can be as beautiful as you want to make them. Or they can be discretely placed behind lattice walls or vine covered trellises. My friend Elfrieda commented and said: “I recently added my eighth one (each one holds 55 gallons). When I have garden "tours", most people don’t even see them and ask where they are.”

Other comments received were just as difficult for me to relate to: They cost too much (ours didn’t since we made them), they are difficult to install (I kind of like doing stuff like that), they don’t have good water pressure (they work great for filling up watering cans), HOA rules won’t let me have one (we don’t have HOA’s) and it takes a long time to get them from the government.

The second reason I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to respond is this: I’m trying my best to be a “green”, eco-friendly gardener. I admit, I’m not always “green” in everything I do. I own and drive an SUV (although, granted, I don’t really drive much). I run the AC when I’m hot (and I’m at that age when I’m hot more often than not). And SOMETIMES I forget to turn off the water when I brush my teeth. But when it comes to my garden and landscape, I really try to be as “green” as possible. So, we have two rain barrels and we intend to build a few more when we get the chance.

The third reason I can’t relate to the many responses I got is this: many local government organizations are willing to HELP their residents do the right, eco-friendly thing, by offering assistance and cash rebates. THIS IS A REALLY GOOD THING!! The fact that they are BEHIND in getting to everyone is also a good thing. It means that people are participating. For goodness sakes, and for GREEN-ness sake, let’s not discourage these programs. Let’s participate, be patient and be appreciative. If we have suggestions to work the kinks out of the programs, let’s offer them. But let’s not stomp on the fingers of the groups that are trying to help us create our “green” gardens.

Okay, now before I redirect you to a post that responds to many of these concerns, I just wanted to comment again about the benefits of rain barrels. Yes, they do capture and hold water, which does help a little bit in times of drought. And, as pointed out by Garden Ruth on Facebook: “I have only one outdoor spigot and using rain barrels on the side without a water source helps me avoid having to install another spigot."

But another VERY important thing that they do is help redirect stormwater runoff.

From The District Department of the Environment website: Rainwater becomes stormwater when rain falls on impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, roads, sidewalks and even lawns. As stormwater moves from our yards to our streams it picks up pollutants such as oil and grease from our roadways and driveways, nutrients from fertilizers on our lawns, and bacteria from pet waste and other animal excrement. Once in the stream, the fast-moving surges of water associated with storms cause erosion and destroys habitat for fish and other wildlife.

There are certainly lots of other ways to cut down on stormwater runoff. You can plant a rain garden. You can install a nice, paver driveway. You can quit using any chemicals in your landscape so that the rainwater that does come off of your property doesn’t cause as many problems. And of course, there is the option of not doing anything at all, if you are okay with that one. But just keep in mind that what you do in your landscape does affect a lot of other people, as pointed out by reader, Leigh Pickering of Arlington.

“I believe most people don't make the connection between their downspouts routed directly to the curb and the flooding of property (and loss of dozens of autos) at the bottom of the hill. (I live near 4 Mile Run Arlington, this happened in '06) They don't understand the lowering of the water table on their (and others) property as a result of their actions or why they lost valuable mature trees and have continual drought stress on their plants. They have never calculated the amount (per roof footage) and value (per their municipal water bill) of the water they literally throw out (Almost $12 per 1000 gallons in Arlington). They are unaware of the enormous costs of managing stormwater off-site or the tax savings that could result from on-site management. And most people are unaware of the loss of quality streams and water habitat as a result of high, fast water flows and its concurrent erosion. Few people understand the importance of impermeable lot coverage laws, and flout them with regularity. Unfortunately, their ignorance is darned expensive for everyone else too.”

Click here to see the results and responses to my rain barrel survey

The Rain Barrel Response - no more excuses

INTRODUCTION (Please read)

I did a quick survey on our blog, on Facebook, on Twitterand on several local garden discussion groups last week asking why more people don’t use rain barrels. Here are some of the comments with responses. Some of the responses provided are from Leah Lemoine , Environmental Protection Specialist from the District Department of the Environment, and are noted by an *LL.

1st Comment: They Cost Too Much – heard from several people

Response: Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a rebate to help cover the purchase price of your rain barrel. In DC, see the RiverSmart Homes site (“The RiverSmart Homes program offers homeowners up to two rain barrels for $30 each.” *LL)  In Montgomery County, see Rainscapes Rewards; in Gaithersburg, Rainscapes Rewards; Rockville – Rainscapes Rewards
If you live outside of the Metro DC area, here's an easy way to look for rain barrel programs in your area. Use the search tool on Click on advanced search to find your state, and then input Rain Barrel or Rain Barrel Rebate. You may have to try other terms to find what you are looking for, but its often worth checking. Another place to try would be your local Cooperative Extension System Office.

Another way to save money is to build your own. Rain barrels are fun and easy to build and there are many rain barrel workshops in the area: Northern Virginia Rain Barrel Registration .

You can also build your own, without a workshop: Rain Barrel Assembly (pdf) 

Video: How to make a rain barrel

Empty plastic drums are available for purchase from James T. Warring Sons for $25.00. And *LL told us that if  you are quick, you can sometimes get empty drums from the Pepsi distributing facility in Hyattsville for only $8.00 each.  “ The Pepsi distributing facility sells used, food-grade drums for $8.  These barrels can easily be retrofitted into a rain barrel with a few pieces of hardware that you can buy at your local hardware store.  The Build Your Own  Rain Barrel brochure from the EPA provides step-by-step instructions. (I have one amendment to these instructions: cut a 2” hole for the upper drain rather than a 1” hole and connect 2” plastic tubing to this hole rather than a spigot). Here is the information to the Pepsi facility: 2611 Pepsi Place, Hyattsville, MD 20781 – Phone (301) 322-7000. They go quick so you should call ahead to make sure there are some on hand.” *LL

Other sources for empty barrels: NovaBarrel ; Low-cost barrels with spigots – Eagle Peak Containers, Inc.

Another option for low cost rain barrels or empty drums is tocheck CraigsList. They are usually listed under Farm+Garden but may also be listed under miscellaneous for sale.

Making a rain barrel really only involves a few simple cuts with a drill and jig saw. If you aren’t comfortable with power tools, try calling your local hardware store and see what they will charge to make the cuts for you. Or ask that handy-man neighbor down the street or again, check on Craigslist.

2nd Comment: They are ugly

Response: You can really buy rain barrels to fit any type of garden d├ęcor. But here are some suggestions for how to decorate or hide a rain barrel.

3rd Comment: They breed mosquitoes

Response (from *LL) – “The chances of mosquitoes breeding can be eliminated by choosing a rain barrel carefully and by sealing connections during the installation. Mosquitoes tend to get into the rain barrels from the inlet and around the spigot and overflow.

 Use caulk and/or thread tape to seal the connections between the barrel and downspout extension, overflow tubing, and spigot. If the barrel has a screen top the gauge of the screen should be at least as narrow as a window screen. The entire perimeter of the screen should be tacked down with adhesive and also screwed in for added stability.” ~ *LL

4th Comment: They are difficult to connect

Response: Installation is pretty simple. We used a hacksaw to cut our downspout but here is a video of a woman who used her garden lops. Again, you might be able to find someone to help you on Craigslist and the video and instructions above do contain installation instructions.

Also, Aquabarrel and probably other companies will install them for you, for a fee.

5th Comment: Pressure too low to run a hose. Time consuming and difficult to use them to fill watering cans and water landscape with watering cans.

Response: I’ve never actually tried to attach a hose to ours. We use them primarily to fill watering cans. We also have a long PVC pipe that directs overflow to water loving plants.

But I did find this neat product online called the Rain Barrel Pump that says it is a simple, effective and inexpensive rain barrel pump. (And it was developed  right here in Arlington)

Also,  Kit Gage, Co-Director of the National Capital Region Watershed Stewards Academy, had this suggestion. "The promotion for rain barrels  should be primarily that they can be used by most homeowners to slow stormwater so it can infiltrate their lawn and garden rather than run off in a flash storm.  People should be encouraged to have a hose at the bottom set on slow leak with the hose ending up in a place the rain can absorb – a rain garden or conservation landscape, or a tree that likes water (sycamore, river birch, etc), and they don't have to think about it."

*LL added “Soaker hoses tend to work well with the barrels.  With the soaker hose you can just leave the spigot open and allow the water to drain over time into the planted areas.  Note the rigid hoses work well with the rain barrels. These usually come in black.  (The pressure in the barrel is insufficient to push through the green collapsible ones).   There are also small solar pumps that can be used in conjunction with the barrels.  Finally, elevating on cinder blocks or a platform helps with pressure."

6thComment: I’ve been waiting a long time to get mine from our local government program.

Response: (From *LL for DC residents ) The RiverSmart Homes rain barrel installations are not taking place as quickly as we had originally planned.  We apologize if the wait is longer than expected.  If you have been audited in January of 2011 or later, your barrels will be installed this fall.  If you were audited prior to January 2011 and have not received your barrels, give me a call as well and I will look into it.  If you are waiting and would like to know how much longer the wait will be, feel free to call me (202-654-6131).

"If you feel that you have not had any response from DDOE, please call me as well.  We try very hard to keep communication open with all homeowners from enrollment, to the stormwater audit, through installation and post-installation."

7th Comment: HOA rules or landlord won’t allow them.

Response: Share this blog with your HOA or landlord. They might specifically benefit from the Eco-Friendly Landscaping Quiz

Other products: During my research, I found other products that seem like they would help do the same job as a rain barrel, without taking up quite as much space, such as this Drought Buster Rainwater Distributor. My only suggestion before buying something like this is to read the online customer reviews.

To read more posts on this blog that mention rain barrels, click here

From front lawn to feast & flowers

Here's a nice article I found this morning, about, Stacey Marien, an acquisitions librarian at American University, who took the plunge and did what many of us dream of doing: she converted her front lawn into an herb and flower garden.

There’s a farmstead afoot in Washington’s AU Park 
~ written by By Sarah Stankorb, photo by Jeff Watts 

Stacey Marien, acquisitions librarian and gardener extraordinaire, has converted her front lawn into a lush herb and flower garden. She grows enough produce at her 500-square-foot community garden plot to avoid the stores from April through November. Between clematis, rock irises, rhubarb, and radishes, Marien has simultaneously created habitat for local birds and butterflies — and sustenance for her family. 

Marien grew up in New England, with a gardening mother who raised food for canning and pickling. Twelve years ago, when she moved to Washington, Marien took the plunge and became a gardener herself. Click here to read the rest of the article.

And read more about Stacey by visiting her blog, Fessenden Farmstead

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