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Ecofriendly Green Practices

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Green Practices for Your Home & Garden

Green Practices for Your Home & Garden Part 1

By now everyone on the west coast of California is aware of our historical drought, especially those of us in sunny and dry Southern California. There are an abundance of simple ways to reduce our water use and help our drought situation, but also that enhance plant and soil health and reduce landfill waste. I believe the simplest steps, if taken in numbers by tenants and homeowners, make the greatest impact. I also believe we are being called into greater stewardship of the plot of land we inhabit, by becoming personally responsible for its well-being and our relationship with it.

Wendell Berry,  in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, writes:

“The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”

So, roll up your sleeves, check your garden tool inventory, lace up them boots and lets get to work!

Reducing Water Use

If it seems I repeat myself on these points, know that they make such a huge impact on our water use. And I find so few households implement them.

You can see my previous two blogs on water saving strategies and lawn alternatives with native, Mediterranean and edible plants. Here I will cover the simplest, low or no cost strategies.

  • Turn off your irrigation controller before and after a rain event.
  • Install an on-site weather station which connects to your controller and automatically adjusts your irrigation programming depending on the weather.
  • Have your city, municipality or a landscape professional perform an irrigation audit. Most tenants and homeowners would be surprised how much water is being wasted, and how much they are spending, on over watering. In fact, if your drip irrigation system is over 5 years old there are most certainly always leaks. Once plants establish they tend to prefer deep infrequent watering, though many irrigation controllers remain with their original programs of frequent, excessive watering. The City of Santa Barbara offers a free water check-up. Check with your city as many offer a free consultation.

Enhancing Soil and Plant Health with Mulch

Mulch is the Master. I can’t say it more plainly. Take a look at soil in the wild. You almost never see it without natural leaf litter, which is nature’s mulch. Technically speaking mulch is anything that covers your soil in your planting beds. Gravel, straw, woods chips and green-waste are all mulches. For our purposes, I will be implying organic (plant based) material that can break down into soil eventually.

So what does mulch do?

Mulch provides a protective layer for your soil, preventing desiccation and hardening from solar radiation. A 2-4 inch blanket of mulch keeps the soil surface moist, where feeder roots can access water and soluble nutrients. Also it is one of the simplest, indirect ways to conserve water and reduce water costs.

Mulch facilitates decomposition, which is the life-blood of healthy soil. Within the mulch and upper soil layers are hundreds of insects, and hundreds of thousands of soil microbes, mostly all participating in soil decomposition. The constant cycling of leaf litter into humus (fully decomposed organic material) reinvigorates soil with nutrients broken down into their most basic, absorbable components. Research of the past decade has revealed that microbial life within the soil is the cornerstone of its health and stability, much like the microbial life in our own intestines.

And hey, it looks good! Mulch puts that finishing touch to the landscape, tying it all together.

The county of Santa Barbara offers free greenwaste, which is recycled, ground yard waste collected across the county. And did you know residents of the city of Goleta and Santa Barbara are entitled to two free mulch deliveries per year? Check out the free mulch delivery program. And if you’re not a resident of Santa Barbara County, check with your local county waste disposal program for what is offered.

Click here for our for our next article: “Green Practices for your Home, Landscape and Garden part 2” where we explore the practice of composting.

Green Practices for Your Home Landscape & Garden Part 2

Green Practices for Your Home & Garden Part 2: Composting

In part 2 of Green Practices, we study and encourage composting, a simple stewardship practice for your home and business.  First, some hopeful news: California issued its official declaration of statewide drought back in January, and the City of Santa Barbara followed suit and did so in February. Its neighboring City of Goleta did so in March.   Since the February declaration the City has achieved a 15% reduction in municipal water use.  Education and participation are key factors here. In other words, knowledge followed by action is making a difference.

A quick review…

In my former blogs Water Conservation Strategies and Lawn Alternatives,  we discussed water saving strategies that beautify your landscape. In Green Practices part 1 we discussed:

  • The benefits of a free irrigation audit
  • And the practice and benefits of mulching your garden beds and planters.

So what else can be done to reduce our impact and benefit the natural ecology where we live or work?


Americans produce approximately 157.7 million tons of waste per year – that’s about 3 pounds of trash per person each day! And a high percentage of that is food waste.  Moreover, it’s a myth that food decomposes in a landfill.  By design landfills are sealed containers, void of oxygen and moisture, attempting to prevent toxic leachate (the liquid byproduct) from contaminating groundwater.  In this environment, food and yard waste is mummified instead of decomposed, and this produces methane gas. If you want more information, you can read up on the science here.  There is a solution! Composting is a simple process that can be done in an urban setting, as well as out in the garden.

The recipe:

  • 3 parts brown waste, (dried leaves, hay, shredded cardboard) which is rich in carbon,
  • 2 parts green waste (kitchen scraps,  lawn clippings, green leaves), which is high in nitrogen,
  • Water and plenty of air.
  • I have also found adding a very fine layer of soil -a sprinkle- acts as an inoculant and accelerates the process.

Think of your compost pile like lasagna, layering brown and green, monitoring moisture, watering occasionally and turning the pile as often or infrequently as you want.  Turning the pile has shown to speed up the decomposition process, but I prefer the hands-off approach

Other helpful facts and resources:

  • Compost piles should be a minimum of 3x3x3 feet, for it takes a critical mass of organic material to ignite the decomposition process.  Piles can be right on the dirt, or in a variety of bins.
  • Santa Barbara County provides discounted Earth Machines @ $40, which retail for over $100.  Here is a list of facilities where they are available.  Check with your local City for similar programs.
  • For those who want more information and are ambitious to read more, this booklet provides valuable information from the County of Santa Barbara.

So what’s with all the buzz?

For those who need more motivation other than reducing landfill waste, realize composting turns your waste into gold.  Every day the average American wastes one of our most valuable resources.  Compost does wonders for vegetable gardens and landscaping.

  • The process of decomposition takes complex organic molecules and breaks them down into the simplest, water soluble and absorbable nutrients where they become available to plants.
  • In addition, it increases beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil, which are inextricably linked to soil health.

Composting is the way of our ancestors and indeed, the way of the future.  Synthetic fertilizers are salinizing our soils and polluting our groundwater.  With compost, it is unlikely that your landscape or garden will need fertilizer, unless it was formerly degraded and already deficient in nutrients. Composting means healthier plants and lower maintenance costs.

Please share your composting success stories and any questions you may have, and check out part 3 of our series ‘Green Practices for your Home, Landscape and Garden” where we explore home greywater systems.