The Latest Dirt - Sept 2022
“Make a Dent in the Universe!”
By Liz Rottger
I had just finished tying down the last zip-tie on the new Water Conservation Garden sign—designed by UC Master Gardener/Designer, Fletcher Oakes (2019)—anchoring it tightly to the garden’s fence, when a car stopped behind me and a young woman jumped out. She was excited and wanted to know all about what we were doing and then asked how she could get involved. She isn’t the first person this summer that has been curious about our work at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cerrito. A number of people have stopped by when we are working there, wondering what we’re up to. I expect that the new signs will elicit even more interest. We certainly hope so! Our mission as UC Master Gardeners is to engage with the gardening public to help them solve problems in their own gardens. There can be no stickier problem than gardening with less water. This garden has no water service or electricity.
We’ve already accomplished quite a bit at the Water Conservation Garden this past summer. We constructed two raised beds with subterranean water reservoirs, filled with chopped up plastic bottles to collect and hold the water. We have a third ‘control’ bed with a traditional drip system. All three beds have a variety of veggies growing in them and we are measuring the amount of water each bed is using. We’ve planted two containers with herbs and ollas to demonstrate another water-efficient irrigation technique. We also planted a large pollinator garden to attract more bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to what was for many years essentially a weedy vacant lot with a few hardy natives. Once these native plants are established, they won’t need any summer water. We’re spreading a deep layer of mulch across the entire lower portion of the garden to begin to regenerate the garden’s depleted, dead dirt. In the fall we plan to construct a fog catchment net, as well as installing rainwater harvesting systems. We plan to use small solar-operated pumps to move the water around. We also plan to sow a cover crop on the garden’s steep, gopher-haven hillside to suppress the weeds growing there and replenish its soil.
But the Water Conservation Garden can be much more than just a garden demonstrating water-efficient irrigation systems. While this certainly will remain one of our primary activities, we want the garden to be much more than that: a place where UC Master Gardeners can conduct any number of experimental projects simultaneously. We want to maximize action and are taking the “do something” approach. We believe that we must act in the face of climate change and the deepening drought in California and not wait for others to tell us what we should do. We aren’t waiting for the perfect plan, and accept that some of the projects we undertake may fail. But we think that as UC Master Gardeners come up with new ideas and explore new possibilities, we will find creative opportunities for cross-pollination that will lead us to unexpected successes. Come and join us as we develop the Water Conservation Garden. There are endless possibilities. Remember Steve Jobs’ famous exhortation: “Make a dent in the universe!” Now’s your chance!