July 23, 2015: We've really been getting into this recycled water thing. Last month we shared details about the new Residential Recycled Water Fill Station that opened in June at the Ironhouse Sanitary District, and how people have been lining up around the block to tote home free recycled water. We've been taking our turn waiting in line with the rest of the diehard water collectors, who turn out every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday to fill up their tanks, often more than once. Granted, our "tanks" are considerably smaller than the ones most people are using. Whereas most of the regular customers show up in their pickups with 275-gallon totes strapped to the tailgate, we have been limited to the 5-gallon handy buckets that Home Depot sells, mainly because we have nowhere to fit anything larger in the back of our small passenger sedans.
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We started off with 20 gallons — four 5-gallon buckets — and decided that wasn't nearly enough to water the plants we have in both the front and back yards. Then Roni, who works most days at the Ironhouse district offices, started making two trips through the water line, so now we were up to 40 gallons. Again, that didn't last us very long, although it seemed a more useful amount. We were now able to give a little water to all our favorite plants in both yards, plus have a little extra to top off the fountain in Summer's Garden.
But having to make two runs each day through the line at the water pumps didn't seem practical, especially considering that we were waiting behind vehicles taking 10 minutes each to fill their giant tanks. We could make the trip just once if we doubled our bucket count, so that is exactly what we did. We returned to Home Depot and bought four more 5-gallon buckets. We had a devil of a time finding lids for them, as several towns now have recycled water stations and other folks were also at the store the day we went, stocking up on buckets of their own.
Now we could collect 40 gallons of water each trip, putting six of the buckets in the trunk of Roni's car and the remaining two buckets behind the front seats. Meanwhile, the sanitary district, which was distributing more than 35,000 gallons of water each day, made a number of improvements to its fill station to help speed customers through the line. They added an extra bank of hoses and upgraded the pump on the water truck that feeds the operation, thus allowing users to fill their containers in less than half the time it took before. Filling our little buckets now took less than five minutes, so it almost seemed worth it coming back a second time for another load.
We have graduated to about 80 gallons per day — still a far cry from the 1,000 gallons or more that a few people are getting, but more than enough for our small property as long as there is no lawn to maintain. We can water our big plum and pine trees in the front yard, the evergreen ash in the back yard, sprinkle some of the grapes and oleanders, and still have enough to go around for smaller flowers and shrubs. The results so far have been impressive. Our yard still has a long way to go to become a lush jungle, but it isn't quite so bone dry as it was. Our crepe myrtle tree on the back patio is looking better than it has looked in ages, and our jasmine in a large pot outside the dining room sliding door once again is growing flowers.
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NCOURAGED BY THE success of our watering efforts, we have started taking an interest in our yard again for the first time in months. We had given up buying new plants because they would die as soon as we put them in the ground. But that was when we relied on our automatic sprinkler system to do all the work. Now that we've turned the sprinklers off, the hand-watering routine forces us to pay closer attention to the plants' individual needs. We aren't as worried about losing them as we once were.
We decided to buy three more oleanders to help screen the fence between our yard and the neighbors' big ugly dog we call Numbnuts. The oleanders are great drought-tolerant plants, and their spreading nature means we should eventually have an attractive living wall in the southwest corner of the yard. We also picked up a couple more Mexican sage plants that Roni hopes to incorporate into our eventual redesign of the front yard. She had been looking for them for years, very happy with the lone sage we have had growing in a barrel for the past decade, but until now she hadn't been able to find any more of them. Then we discovered a bunch of them at Home Depot, billed as drought-tolerant plants. They were $20 each, but we didn't feel bad about the purchase because we've had such great success with the plant and enjoy its purple flowers in the fall. We knew that, like the oleanders, we wouldn't kill it.
Unfortunately, not all of our plants have fared well. The drought nearly claimed our evergreen ash tree, which failed to leaf out in February like it normally does. Once the recycled water became available we embarked on a rehab program for the ash, dumping 5 gallons of water on it at least three times a week. That seems to be paying off, as the tree now has numerous leaf clusters sprouting from its main trunk. However, we will need to give it a heavy pruning this winter. We have had less luck with our chenin grape, which should be in the thick of its growing season now but appears to be deceased. We don't know if the drought got it or the gophers did, or if there is any hope for saving it. We'll keep trying.
There is no question what did in our little orange/grapefruit tree that we had planted in a barrel next to the patio. In the winter we were very excited to have a dozen ripe oranges ready for harvest. It was the best crop we'd had in the decade that we'd had the tree. We had been giving it regular water and fertilizer, and the tree had rewarded us with robust growth and a large collection of blossoms that held great promise for another bumper crop. Then suddenly everything changed. The orange portion of the tree — it was an orange grafted onto grapefruit stock by the nursery — began to wither and lose all those lovely blossoms. Glenn feared he had harmed it somehow when he fertilized it. We gave it more water, but the withering continued. We pruned off the dead branches and hoped for the best. Then the grapefruit branches started to brown up too. By early July it was clear that the tree wasn't coming back. Glenn then inspected the trunk and found that it wasn't attached to anything. It bore all signs that something had chewed through it. But what? The plant had been in the barrel all its life, and the only problem we had ever had with it was scale, which attracted a huge colony of ants. Could ants have chewed through the roots so thoroughly?
Another possibility was that termites had invaded the tree. We have them all over our yard, and usually around October and February they take flight for new munching grounds. We dug all the dirt out of the barrel and sure enough found a small colony of the little white beasties, happily turning the inside of the oak barrel to mulch. But then we discovered something else. The bottom of the barrel was no longer intact, and the main root of the tree had grown through the gap. We normally put our barrels of a foundation of four square concrete stepping stones to help them avoid direct contact with the ground, but in this case we had run out of the larger stones and had used narrower ones around the perimeter of the barrel, leaving a spot in the center where the ground was exposed. The root had grown through that spot deep into the sandy soil. Sometime during the winter the root was visited by Mr. Gopher. End of story. All our efforts to protect the tree were thwarted because the tree escaped its container. Nature always finds a way, even if it doesn't always know best.
We mourned the loss of our orange tree only briefly. On the same Home Depot visit that saw us pick up the Mexican sage and oleanders, we also selected a new navel orange to fill the repaired barrel. This one is a dwarf, which the other wasn't, so hopefully it will stay small and the roots will stay put. The barrel was so badly rotted inside that we simply removed what was left of its floor and placed it on top of chicken wire and then a sheet of inch-thick foil-backed foam. We hope the gopher won't be able to get to it for a while, at least.
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OUR FRONT YARD looks much worse than the rest of the property. The plants have been holding their own and Roni would occasionally water them, but the lawn died long ago and even the honeysuckle, which seems to take over everything, was turning brown. Glenn finally gave the honeysuckle the good pruning it deserves, pulling away a ton of it from the side yard near the gate where we keep our garbage can and recycling bins. The honeysuckle had grown a trunk as thick as a small tree and extended its branches high into our mock orange. An oleander that also occupies that corner had grown super tall in an effort to find the sunlight, but its trunk remained tiny, constricted by the strangling vines. Glenn mostly liberated the plants from the honeysuckle, stopping the project only because there was no room left in the green waste bin to hold the pulled vines. We lamented not having a mulcher.
The other thing we have lamented is not having any front yard landscaping. What used to be the front lawn is now the neighborhood's largest cat box, its sandy soil an attractive dumping and burial ground. Roni has been particularly keen to change that, moreso because the city code enforcement folks have started handing out violation notices to property owners who have let their yards go to seed, despite the mandate to conserve water. Apparently it is OK to not have a lawn, but you can't have nothing. A lot of people in town have started converting their yards to more drought-tolerant landscaping, putting in rocks and bark to cover up the blank spots. We want to do that too, but so far we haven't been able to settle on a plan.
Whatever we do, the first step will be expanding the driveway. We have wanted to do that since buying Roni's new Corolla last September, but just never got around to it. Part of it is the expense, part of it the manual labor involved, but the more significant reason is because it will involve lugging home a ton of pavers and we don't have a good way to do that. Given the cost of having things delivered by truck when you buy from the home improvement stores, we want to make sure we order a bunch of the stuff we need all at once to keep the cost reasonable. That means all our pavers, gravel, sand, rocks, plants and whatever else we may need.
We have been giving serious consideration to buying a folding trailer that could be hitched to the back of Roni's car to tow home some of the things we need as well as make runs to the dump. It's been all talk, so far. But we're getting close to making a decision, so you'll probably hear more about this next month.
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GLENN OFFICIALLY JOINED Club Fifty on July 1, an event that drew more attention from the AARP than from within our own household. It wasn't that we forgot to celebrate the half-century mark, but Glenn didn't have any specific plans for doing so, and we've all been too busy to make plans. The day consisted of a trip to Jersey Island with the Delta Science Center Summer Kids' Club to take part in a video shoot the kids are working on to document levee subsidence in the Delta. It was running close to 100 degrees, so only two of the kids turned out to use the new Canon video cam that Roni had purchased just for this purpose. Glenn used the opportunity to bring out the quadcopter for its first flight in more than four months.
Later that afternoon, Roni and Glenn went to the movies to see "Terminator: Genisys," the utterly forgettable fifth installment in the long-running Terminator franchise. The best thing about it was that we were able to get out of the heat for a couple of hours, after which we ordered a large pizza and salad from Skipolini's for Glenn's birthday feast. Glenn didn't have a lot of items on his birthday list, but he did get a nice set of windchimes, some chocolates and a bag of pistachios, and a very cool T-shirt featuring an image of the fearsome velociraptor dinosaur from the movie "Jurassic World" (which, by the way, was much better than "Terminator: Genisys"!)
Glenn was on vacation from the newspaper that first week of July, but Roni was hard at work for her job with Ironhouse Sanitary District, making sure things were running smoothly at the recycled water station and holding down the district's booth at the annual Oakley Cityhood Celebration, which took place on July 4 for change. The show has always culminated in a fireworks display, and this one was no different. Several thousand people were on hand for the show that wrapped up at close to 10 p.m.
Roni has also been busy with the DSC's rice project, although that hasn't been running nearly as smoothly as it did last year. We have had nothing but trouble with the greenhouse since building it, and even when the wind eventually died down, the weeds have been taking over inside. After a few weeks of waiting and watching for the rice to sprout and seeing nothing — mainly because the weeds are so dense that you can't see anything else — Roni called the project a failure and decided on a new approach.
She let the greenhouse go (which wasn't difficult, as the wind had already shredded the plastic) and decided to plant rice seed directly in the neighboring transplant field, where the seedlings would have gone if the greenhouse had succeeded. She had to order more rice from UC Davis, so we spent one afternoon driving there to pick up the huge sack. We prepared the transplant field by having it tilled again to kill off the weeds, then drove green metal stakes into the ground and topped them with bird netting and reflective metallic ribbon to keep the various avians away from the seed. Roni flooded the field this week and should have it ready to receive the rice within a day or two. We've got our fingers crossed that things work this time.
That seems to be about it for this month. More tales to come in August.