by Connie Oswald Stofko
Just in time for Earth Day, a sale of rain barrels and compost bins is being held by Erie County and the Western New York Stormwater Coalition. This year, a kitchen compost container and a compost turning tool will also be offered.
Orders must be placed by May 20.
You don’t have to live in Erie County to purchase the items, but you have to pick them up in Erie County. There will be two locations for pick up: one in Tonawanda and one in Orchard Park. You will select your preference when you order. They will contact you via e-mail in June to provide directions and specific dates and times for pick up. The estimated date for pick up is June 15.
Compost bins and rain barrels can help you in your garden, and they can help the environment, too.
Compost enriches soil.
Using compost in your garden is a great way to break up clay soil and enrich your soil. You can reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
While you can buy compost, it’s cheaper to make your own. Compost bins don’t cost much and they last for years.
The bins offered in the Erie County sale provide air circulation, which speeds up the decomposition process, plus they’re designed to help keep out rodents and other pests.
You don’t have to buy a bin; you can make one yourself. You can use a simple garbage can with a tight-fitting lid as a compost bin that will keep pests out. Drill holes in the garbage can to provide more air circulation. You can make a compost bin out of pallets that can hold a lot of plant material, but it might attract pests if you put kitchen scraps in there. Get more composting tips here.
Composting helps the environment because it can reduce the amount of solid waste that might otherwise go to a landfill, the WNY Stormwater Coalition noted on its website.
Rain water is better for plants than chlorinated water.
Using rain barrels can help your garden in several ways.
First, it can provide a convenient source of water in your yard for spots that your hose won’t reach. If your yard is like mine, there is only one tap to attach your hose to, and the hose doesn’t reach the far corners of the front and back yards. Placing rain barrels further back in your yard, like by your garage or shed, or under the downspout near the front of your house, can help you get water to plants in the distant corners.
Set the rain barrel on some cinder blocks to elevate it, then attach a hose to your rain barrel. Set the other end of the hose near the roots of your plant. You won’t have high pressure, but the water can travel a good distance through the hose and gently flow onto the ground at the base of the plant where the water is needed.
According to the WNY Stormwater Coalition, the natural nutrients in rain water make it far better for your plants than tap water, which has chlorine and fluoride in it.
Using rain barrels conserves water, which helps our environment.
But most important, rain barrels help the environment by reducing stormwater runoff.
Stormwater is water from rain or melting snow that does not soak into the ground, according to the WNY Stormwater Coalition. It flows from rooftops and over paved areas, bare soil and sloped lawns.
As it flows, stormwater runoff collects and transports animal waste, litter, salt, pesticides, fertilizers, oil & grease, soil and other pollutants.
The polluted stormwater empties directly into streams and rivers with no treatment.
This stormwater pollution can make beaches unsafe for swimming, threaten the quality of our drinking water, kill fish and other wildlife and make fish unsafe to eat.
A sanitary sewer system and a storm sewer system are not the same. Water that goes down a sink or other inside drain flows to either a wastewater treatment plant or to a septic system for treatment.
Storm sewer flows are not treated. Water that flows down driveways, streets, and outside areas into a storm sewer or ditch flows directly to nearby creeks, fish and wildlife habitats, downstream recreational areas and drinking water supplies.
Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, was started in 1970 to help motivate people to protect our environment. There are things that we as gardeners can do to protect our environment, especially our precious water. Here are a few more ideas from the WNY Stormwater Coalition:
Use lawn or garden chemicals sparingly.
Choose organic alternatives when possible and check the weather forecast to avoid applying them before a storm.
I would add to this that when it comes to pesticides, make sure you know what you’re doing. Properly identify the bug or plant disease that you are trying to remedy. Using the wrong product could be counterproductive. You might not have any effect on the problem, plus you could be killing off insects that benefit your garden.
To help you figure out what bug or plant disease you have, contact the Master Gardeners in your county. Or you can take a sample of the affected plant to a locally owned garden center that has trained professionals on staff. They’ll steer you in the right direction.
Cover topsoil during landscape installation.
Eroded soil is a pollutant, too. It clouds the waterway and interferes with the habitat of fish and plant life. If you have piles of topsoil or compost as you’re undertaking a landscape project, keep them covered and contained. Get more tips on preventing pollution while landscaping here.
Minimize runoff by not over-watering your lawn and garden.
Keep sprinklers on a timer to avoid pooling water.
Mow your lawn less often.
Try to keep your lawn at least 3 inches in height to minimize weed growth, reduce the need for watering, and decrease the likelihood of pests. Leaving the clippings on the lawn can also help block weeds and retain moisture. Sweep your sidewalks and driveway rather than hosing them down, which would send grass clippings and other debris into the storm drain.
Use native plants and grasses.
Native plants often have longer root systems, which reduce the amount of chemicals and water needed. Try seeding your lawn with Buffalo Grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) or Northern Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). For native plant listings, the WNY Stormwater Coalition suggests this US Department of Agriculture database. I also like the guide produced by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
Clean up pet waste.
Bag up pet waste and dispose of it in the trash to prevent harmful bacteria from washing into local waterways.
Don’t drain your pool into the street.
Never discharge pool, spa, or fountain to a street or storm drain. If possible, when emptying a pool, spa or fountain, let the chlorine dissipate for a few days and then reuse the water by draining it gradually onto a landscaped area. Get more tips on pools, fountains and spas here.