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'Dan Carney'

Dec 06

Rainwater: What’s It Made of, and Why Is It so Good for the Garden?

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on December 6, 2016 at 2:24 PM by Ann Vallee

by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager

Marin is fortunate to have received 17.55 inches of rain at Lake Lagunitas since July 1—159% of average for this time of year and more rain is expected soon. Whether you like to sit and enjoy the sound of raindrops on the window, or splash in puddles, rain is good news for Marin. 

Rainwater is amazing stuff! According to researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, rain falling on the California coast is not pure H2O, but contains a mixture of particles including dust, carbon and nitrogen compounds, minerals, vegetative detritus and sea salt. It also has an average pH around 5.7, on the acidic side compared to pure H2O with a neutral pH of 7.0. But even with this mix of atmospheric particles, it is water of excellent quality.

What does this water chemistry mean for your landscape plants in Marin? The slightly acidic pH, low salt content, and dissolved nitrogen in rainwater create ideal conditions for making soil nutrients available to your plants. If you’ve ever noticed plants looking especially perky after a good rain, now you know why. 

How can you take full advantage of this liquid gold as it falls from the sky? The easiest way is to make sure that the rain falling on your property stays on your property. You can redirect roof drains into the landscape, create dry creek beds or rain gardens to encourage infiltration into the soil, and capture some of it in rain barrels to use on a sunny day. For more rainwater ideas, and to apply for a $50 rain barrel rebate, please visit MMWD’s Rainwater Harvesting webpage at
Nov 29

Soil: How Sweet It Is

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on November 29, 2016 at 11:38 AM by Ann Vallee

by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager

How would you describe the soil in your garden: sandy, loamy or gumbo? Whatever the texture, it should be teeming with beneficial organisms ranging in size from squirming earthworms to microscopic fungi. As many as 1 billion bacteria can live in a teaspoon of soil according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a lot of life!

Healthy soil supports a complex food web, where nutrients are recycled and made available to your plants. Investing in your garden soil is like investing in a healthy diet and exercise—it helps you live a long and happy life. 

For example, think about a time when you tasted a homegrown tomato or sweet corn that was bursting with flavor. Besides being delicious, they were packed with nutrients that came right out of the soil. 

When you are planning a new Marin-friendly landscape or food garden, consider getting your soil tested. It’s an easy way to find out about the pH, nitrogen balance and overall health of your soil. You can buy a do-it-yourself testing kit for as little as $20, or send your soil sample off to a professional testing laboratory for around $50. Here’s what you need to do:
  1. Go to the Marin Master Gardeners Gardening Resources webpage, under “Soil & Compost,” and find the testing solution that works best for you. 
  2. Follow the package or laboratory’s instructions on how to collect the soil samples. Typical collection instructions go something like this: 
    • With a hand trowel and one-quart zip-lock bag in hand, dig down 4-6 inches below the soil surface and scoop up a dozen small samples from different areas of your garden. Fill the bag about half full and mix the samples together.
    • If you’re sending the sample to a lab, tightly seal and label the bag and mail it as soon as possible. If you’re testing it yourself, just follow the instructions on the test kit.  
One advantage of sending the sample to a lab is you can ask for recommendations on the type and quantity of amendments your soil needs. Keeping your soil in top condition will help your plants grow stronger with less water, produce tastier veggies and fruit, and reduce pest and disease problems. It costs a few dollars more and is well worth it. 
Nov 16

Get Your Garden Ready for Thanksgiving 2017

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on November 16, 2016 at 11:45 AM by Ann Vallee

by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager

According to the culinarian at the living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Wampanoag people had a “varied and extremely good diet” and likely feasted with the Pilgrims on a variety of squashes, beans and corn at the famous Thanksgiving of 1621. 

If you grow your own veggies (or want to), there is still time to plant a cover crop to enrich your garden soil for next year’s fall harvest. Cover crops, or “green manure,” include legumes and grasses that improve fertility and soil structure making it more water efficient, nutrient-rich, and naturally resistant to pests and weeds. Now is a good time to plant: Rain is on the way, the soil is still warm enough for good germination, and there is time for the seedlings to get established before a frost. 

To prepare your garden for planting, simply rake the soil smooth and broadcast the seeds of your favorite cover crop following package directions. According to the U.C. Marin Master Gardeners, “Legumes are particularly valuable for Marin gardeners because they add nitrogen to the soil. Examples of legumes include fava beans, soy beans, crimson clover, red cover and hairy vetch.” 

In the spring or early summer you harvest your crop by chopping it up and digging it into the soil—that’s why it’s called green manure. Timing is important: Let the cover crop mature until it flowers, but don’t let it go to seed. The idea is to give the green manure time to decompose into the soil, making it rich and sweet for planting your corn, beans and squash in 2017. There is nothing better than fresh from the garden!