I’ve taken a little break from my bi-monthly blog to keep up with the frenzy of spring gardening activities, but am getting back to it now, a year since I got started. May’s activities for me included attendance at a 3 day intensive training to become a Bay Friendly Qualified Professional, a great boost to my knowledge, and enthusiasm!
Bay Friendly Landscaping is a program created by the Alameda County organization StopWaste.org to promote sustainable landscape practices. It is “A whole systems approach to the design, construction and maintenance of the landscape in order to conserve natural resources, reduce waste and prevent pollution.” The San Francisco Bay needs as many human friends as it can get, because the way we design, install and maintain the landscapes that surround it have a big impact on its health. The many millions of people that live, work and play on the land that surrounds the Bay have the potential to generate a lot of waste and pollution, and the water, land and air can only absorb so much.
I want to encourage everyone to take a closer look at their gardens relative to this program, which in fact can apply to all gardens, not just those in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is systematized into 7 main principles and has various checklists and a process by which a project can become certified, in the same vein as the Sustainable Sites Initiative, and the LEED Program (see the Resources below). I won’t go deep into the details here, but in general terms we are talking about conserving water, reducing waste, keeping pollutants out of the water and air, and generally working to better integrate our designed landscapes into the natural world.
The Soil Food-Web
One of the most interesting aspects of the program is the emphasis on soil health. As I’ve mentioned before, the soil is a huge part of a successful garden, and needs to be regarded as a living entity in its own right. I learned a lot more about the amazing intricacy of the life inhabiting the soil, which is really its own ecosystem, referred to as the Soil Food-Web. A healthy soil has all kinds of macro and micro organisms living in it that are a major asset for garden health and success. The Soil Food-Web not only works to provide the appropriate nutrients for plants, but also reduces the likelihood of plant disease and even discourages weeds. Adding good quality organic compost to your soil is the best way to quickly improve it, with many other possibilities depending on your specific conditions. The ecosystem in the soil is truly fascinating and worth learning more about yourself. The short lesson is: be sure to test and improve your soil’s living food-web before putting plants into it, and stay away from chemical fertilizers!
Related to the importance of soil, Sheet Mulching was a big topic in the course, especially as a major weapon against the pervasive problem of weed control. Although I have previously experimented with it in my own backyard, I learned some important finer points, such as putting a one-inch layer of compost on top of the cardboard before adding wood chip mulch. This helps enrich the soil below over time, and allows for the installation of smaller plants on top of the cardboard layer without cutting into it. Although I haven’t tested this out myself, and it does have its limits, the idea of putting your sheet mulch down and planting on top of appears to be a very efficient way for converting a small weedy yard to a healthy, sustainable garden.
Landscape Water Use
The course also provided a detailed refresher for me on the importance of managing landscape water use in a garden. Although the current California state law AB1881 regulating landscape water use does not apply to small gardens, the intent is to change that in the near future. Some cities, such as San Francisco have already implemented their own stricter requirements, so that residential landscapes must submit water use calculations for approval with a permit prior to construction. Water use calculations are not usually too time-consuming for a professional to perform and always provide a good piece of information for planning a garden, so keep that in mind when you start your next garden project.
I’ve already touched on many of the sustainable landscape practices in my writing and will continue to put out more detail on the various techniques, especially the water use calculations and regulations within California. I encourage you to use the Bay Friendly web site and all its resources to learn more yourself …
The Bay Friendly Landscape Web Site has many resources including free downloads of the ones listed below, start a the home page: http://www.stopwaste.org/home/index.asp?page=8
Bay Friendly Gardening Guide
Bay Friendly Guide to Mulch
Bay Friendly Guide to Grasscycling
Bay Friendly Guide to Recycled-Content and Salvaged Materials
See also www.bayfriendlycoalition.org
American Society of Landscape Architects, Sustainable Sites Initiative: http://www.sustainablesites.org/
US Green Building Council, LEED Rating System: http://www.usgbc.org/leed/rating-systems