Please forgive me if I keep posting photos of our vegetable garden! We enjoy growing some of our food very much--watching the seeds sprout, watching the plants grow and produce food for us (and the birds and the squirrels!). Berkeley is the 13th densest city over 100,000 population in the United States, so keeping connected to nature is important.
Right now the potatoes, in particular, are very gratifying--they are growing so quickly! We built a second raised bed form and set it over the first to deepen the bed. We bought two organic potatoes at the local market (since we aren't growing very many we don't worry about using certified seed potatoes), let them sprout, cut them into pieces, and planted them--we'll get pounds of potatoes for our $1 purchase. The way potatoes work is that you place them in a trench or a deep pot and then keep adding layers of mulch or dirt on them as they grow--little potatoes grow out from the stems. (There is lots of information on the web about growing potatoes in pots--this is great fun for kids.)
You may have heard that we are in the middle of a severe/extreme drought here in California. This makes gardening a challenge, and our backyard will not look so lush in a few months--we are enjoying the .87 inch of rain we got earlier this week, a fact that might make those of you on the east coast grind your teeth.
Both John and I are westerners; he is from Butte, Montana, and I am from Seattle. We are both used to water being a limited resource. (Seattle, you say? Why, yes. Despite its reputation, Seattle has what is known as a Mediterranean climate--wet winters and dry summers. When the snow pack in the Cascades isn't deep enough water rationing has been imposed. Even in flush summers it is normal for Seattleites to allow their lawns to go brown. One year the water district passed out free rain barrels!)
Here are the steps we've taken since buying our fixer-upper in Berkeley to reduce our water usage:
- When the old water heater bit the dust we purchased an on-demand type.
- We fill the dishwasher to capacity and do as little hand washing of dishes as possible.
- Our washing machine is a low water version.
- When we've replaced our toilets we've put in low-flow versions.
- We do not take baths; we take short showers.
- We capture the shower "warm up" water in a bucket for the garden.
- We capture water in a rain barrel to water the vegetables.
- When rain is in the forecast we take the lids off the compost bins to water them.
- Any extra water from, say, blocking a sweater goes onto the garden.
- We pulled up the old weed-ridden grass and planted with unthirsty plants. The front yard requires nearly no watering at all: grevillea (the hummingbirds love this one!), manzanita, westringia, New Zealand flax, Mexican feather grass, rosemary (the bees love this), and an olive tree. (I'm listing these for you, Petey!) The few thirsty plants in the back yard are grouped and spot watered by hand—they aren't coddled, so they can look pretty stressed as the season goes along, but they manage. Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates by the romantically named East Bay Municipal Utility District is a very good reference.
- Our vegetables are grown in 3' x 3' raised beds, where we can easily water each by hand to its specific requirements, without wasting water on the walkways.
- We have not planted many new plants in the last few years because you need a fair amount of water to get them established.
Clearly many of these steps have taken years to develop—we made our front yard decisions 6 years ago, so the plants are well established, and we swapped out big purchase items as needed. Even though we weren't in a drought when we chose the washing machine and the plants it was obvious that we would be—that is the nature of the west.
Of course, larger forces are at play, but a single household can be conscious nonetheless. I think it is healthy to learn to respond to forces beyond our control in a positive way. It just takes thought.
Mason says, "Be smart!"