June 20, 2007

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With the help of Texas Cooperative Extension, members of the Forney Garden Club recently installed this rainwater catchment system to irrigate a public garden. (Texas Cooperative Extension photo by Mike Jackson.)

  When in drought, use rainwater

By Mike Jackson
Texas Cooperative Extension

Nature can be stingy with rain, so hoard it when you can.

So say members of the Forney Garden Club, who with help from Texas Cooperative Extension, installed a rainwater catchment system for irrigation at a public garden.

"It's foolish to water your plants with drinking water," said Rebecca Parker, Extension's regional program director in Dallas.

Extension and club volunteers installed the 350-gallon unit this spring, said Ralph Davis, an Extension agent in Kaufman County. Funding was provided by a $1,500 federal grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The system rests in a corner of the 3-year-old Kaufman County Xeric Garden in Forney, about 20 miles east of downtown Dallas.

In addition to providing irrigation for the garden, the system demonstrates how rainwater can be collected for use in home and commercial landscaping, Davis said.

"Like many communities in North Texas, Forney has been under watering restrictions due to an ongoing drought," Davis said. "We set up the rain barrel to show folks that they don't have to worry about the amount of water they use if they get it from a catchment tank."

The system's galvanized steel tank collects rainwater from the roof of a neighboring county subcourthouse, Davis said. It takes only a half-inch of rain running off 1,250-square-feet to fill the tank.

Untreated, rainwater should be used only for plants and animals, he said. Rain picks up particles and debris from roofs that people should not consume.

Installing a home system shouldn't be difficult, Davis said. A 350-gallon tank may not be necessary since smaller units are available and comparatively inexpensive.

"You can take a plain 30-gallon trash can and make a collection system out of it," Davis said. "If a person's house is guttered already, they probably could do a small one for $200.

"And, really, you could do a little bitty one for less than that. I imagine you could get by with $50."

Extension plans to offer a class on installing systems in the fall, he said.

Harvesting water is an old idea, Davis said. People have been collecting water for as long as they have needed it to drink.

"People have been doing this for thousands of years," he said. "We just got away from it."

Residents in rural areas, for example, collected rain in cisterns through the early 1900s, until water management districts were formed, Davis said. There are unused cisterns all over Kaufman County.

Garden club members were happy to borrow the old idea, said Brad Acerman, a Master Gardener who helped with the project.

The collection system meshes well with the educational theme of conservation at the garden, which was built with $30,000 raised by the club's 60 members, Acerman said.

The garden's plants, including Earthkind roses, petunias and garlic chives, are native and require less water than those in the typical suburban landscape, he said.

North Texans may not be as concerned about conservation this spring, given recent rains that caused some cities to ease watering restrictions, Acerman said.

"But come July and August, when it gets hot and dry, people are going to start to get interested," he said.

Billy Kniffen, Menard County Extension Agent, left, works with a master gardener from Abilene to fabricate wildlife watering stations.

The entrance of Menard County library. (Photos by Robert Dailey)

  Rural County Agent teaches rainwater harvesting to hundreds

By Robert Dailey
Freelance Writer

Billy Kniffen stands before a group of some 30 people speaking passionately. Tall and rangy, a short shock of gray hair over his forehead, he looks more like Carl Sandberg than the county agent of one of the smallest populated counties in Texas.

Waving his sun-burnished farmer's hands in the air, he spellbinds the group. Sitting before him is a group of master gardeners from across the state of Texas. All educated people…some retired, others still working in professions that range from physician to school teacher.

The group is in the village of Menard, population 1,600, to become rainwater harvesting specialists. Kniffen and a group of staffers from Texas A&M University are there to teach them. But there's no doubt who's in control.

In the years that he's been the extension agent in Menard, he has almost single-handedly made the county into a rain-water harvesting Mecca, because that's where Kniffen's passion lies.

With only 22 inches of rainfall a year, Menard might seem an unlikely location for rainwater harvesting. Despite the dearth of precipitation, Menard, which sits on the eastern edge of the Trans-Pecos Desert (an extension and expanding area of the massive Chihuahuan Desert), is an oasis-like town, thanks to Kniffen.

Rainfall, harvested from the roof of the county library, waters a large native plant area.

Immense water catchment basins, buried on the caliche-filled slope in front of the library, acts like a massive French drain, not only keeping the soil in place, but also providing needed moisture for a water-wise garden.

There are rainwater tanks at the local school, supporting a lush garden full of vegetables and native Texas plants. Another massive tank at the large municipal building supplies water to toilet facilities and to water even more gardens.

But Kniffen's influence doesn't stop here.

A number of homes sport rainwater harvesting operations, with ultra violet, carbon and other treatments for cleaning and filtering rainwater. Back and side yards fill with the sound of water, gurgling through man-made streambeds, some 50 feet or more long. The pump-re-circulated streams support wildlife, lush gardens and provide relaxation for the homeowners.

But the piece de resistance is Kniffen's home itself. Water collected into gutters from the roof of Kniffen's log home is channeled into a series of five large holding tanks. The water goes through a series of filtering systems and then is returned to his home. Kniffen and his wife, Mary, use the water for showers, washing, irrigation for his beautiful gardens, and a streambed Kniffen built using local river stone, as well as other uses.

The agent has even developed a coterie of junior master gardeners, mostly from the fifth and sixth grades of the local school, and trained by a Menard County master gardeners. The children, intelligent and open-faced, are sophisticated in rainwater harvesting and water conservation.

As Texas aquifers continue to be drawn down faster than they can replenish themselves, and waterways becoming increasingly polluted, Kniffen's work is timely as well as far-sighted.

He has already trained hundreds of master gardeners throughout the state to be rainwater harvesting specialists, and many counties and cities are adopting his efforts.

  Texas Gardener collection available

A long-time reader of Texas Gardener has a "nearly complete" collection of the magazine and would like to donate it to a library or master gardener group interested in preserving and maintaining the collection.

If you represent a library or master gardener group that would be interested in receiving this collection, please contact us at TG Collection and we will forward your contact information to the collection's owner.

  Gardening tips

"Have you ever wondered what to do will those old leaky hoses?" writes Al Greenburg. "Just turn them into soaker hoses by punching more holes wherever you want more water along the length of the hose. If the leaks are too large then partially wrap them with waterproof tape to reduce the water flow."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

Soaker hoses work best in short lengths and when placed to slope away from the water source. If you need to water an upward sloping bed be sure to place the water source as near to the bed as possible.


  Upcoming garden events

San Antonio: As part of Contemporary Art Month and Texas Uprising, the San Antonio Botanical Society and Blue Star Contemporary Art Center will host Art in the Garden, a sculpture exhibition featuring the work of James Surls, at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston Place, San Antonio, beginning with a reception on Thursday, July 26 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. The exhibition will be open daily beginning July 27 and will run for one year. For more information, call (210) 829-5100 or visit www.sabot.org.

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners will be sponsoring training classes  August 22 through December 5. Classes will meet every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Texas Cooperative Extension Building, 210 East Live Oak, Seguin. Application deadline is July 31. Enrollment is limited to 30 paid students. For more information and application forms, visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org or call the Guadalupe County Extension Office at (830) 379-1972.

Austin: The Fifteenth Annual Texas Bamboo Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26 at Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin. Sponsored by the Texas Bamboo Society, the event will celebrate the wonders of bamboo with presentations, demonstrations and education information, including Bamboo 101, a Bamboo Kite Making Workshop led by Greg Kono, and Bamboos of Southeast Asia presented by Harry Simmons. Bamboo plants and crafts will be for sale. For additional information, call (512) 929-9565 or visit www.bamboocentral.net.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden is sponsoring a trip to Italy September 4 through 15, featuring Italy's villas and gardens. Escorted by Bob Brackman, the Director of the Garden, an exceptional itinerary has been designed for lovers of leisurely travel and beautiful homes and gardens. Famous for their gardens, Italians still build on their ancestors' legacy with the creation of exquisite country villas surrounded by terraced, fountain-filled gardens that have become symbolic of Italian style. Experience the rich cultural heritage of Italy. Visit special gardens, famous museums, the important cities of Florence and Rome, plus the Lake District, and the small villages which make Italy so charming, such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita and Tuscan villages. Feast on fabulous Italian cuisine and enjoy la dolce vita. Land cost per person sharing is $3550 plus air, which includes a $100 tax deductible donation, most meals and gratuities. For more information, contact Marianne Martz of Fuller Travel at (210) 828-6311 or marianne@fullertvl.com.

Tyler: The Smith County Master Gardener Association will sponsor its annual Fall Gardening Conference at the Tyler Rose Garden Center, 400 Rose Park Drive, Tyler, on Saturday, September 8, from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. A plant sale and expo will be held at Harvey Hall and Convention Center following the conference, from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Conference speakers are Steven L. Chamblee. chief horticulturalist for Chandler Gardens in Weatherford, and Keith Kridler, cultivator and merchant of daffodil varieties including antique daffodils that are no longer or not commonly produced. Admission to the conference and to the plant sale is free. For additional information, call (903) 590-2980.

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association “Hidden Gardens Tour & Fall Plant Sale” will be held Saturday, September 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Hidden Gardens Tour and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the Fall Plant Sale at Green Acres, 611 East Mimosa Street at Pearl Street, Rockport. Get your tickets and maps at Green Acres for this one-day event in addition to purchasing those much-wanted plants that you can’t find anywhere. The maps will lead you to wonderful Hidden Gardens in both Aransas County and San Patricio County. Be sure to take the time to wander through the demonstration gardens at Green Acres, which are continuously being updated and maintained by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener Association. Admission is $10.00. For pre-registration tickets and/or questions contact the Aransas County Texas Cooperative Extension, Rockport, at (361) 790-0103.

Fort Worth, Dallas: Visit America's very best, rarely seen, Private Gardens. The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program has been opening the gates to America's best private gardens since 1995. The 2007 season features more than 350 gardens across 21 states. Learn about gardens participating in your area through the Open Days Directory, an annual publication listing open gardens with garden descriptions, open dates and hours, and directions. To purchase a Directory or for more information, call (888) 842-2442 or visit www.opendaysprogram.org. The $5 admission fee supports the expansion of the Open Days Program around the country and helps build awareness of the Garden Conservancy's work of preserving exceptional American gardens such Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead. 2007 Texas Open Days: Fort Worth: October 14; Dallas: October 20.

St. Francisville, La.: The 2007 Southern Garden Symposium will be held October 26 and 27 in St. Francisville, La. Friday workshops held at Afton Villa Gardens include "Creating Interior Focal Points through Floral Design," led by Dr. James DelPrince; "Pruning for Plant Health," led by Martha Hill; "21st Century Gardening: Plants, Products and Practices," led by Nellie Neal; and "Timeless Tips for Fool Proof Landscapes," led by Mary Palmer and Hugh Dargan. The Friday evening cocktail buffet will be held at Live Oak Plantation. Saturday lectures held at Hemingbough include "Hot New Flowers and Captivating Combinations," led by Norman Winter; "Furnishings for the Garden: 1750-1900," led by H. Parrot Bacot; and "Garden Design Inspirations: Seeing Art Design Elements in Nature and Applying them to Southern Garden Designs," led by Edward C. Martin. $60 per person, per day admission includes lunch. Admission to the Friday evening cocktail buffet is $35 per person. For registration and additional information, contact Lucie Cassity at (225) 635-3738 or write to Southern Garden Symposium, P.O. Box 2075, St. Francisville, LA 70775.

Waco: The Texas Gourd Society presents its 12th annual Lone Star Gourd Festival October 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, at the Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Ave., Waco. Featured will be gourd artists and crafters, demonstrations, seminars and much more. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 are free. For additional information, visit www.texasgourdsociety.org.

Belton, Temple, Killeen: The Bell County Master Gardener Association will host the Fall Glory garden tour Saturday, October 20, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Gardens in Belton, Temple and Killeen will be showcased. Admission is $5 for adults. For additional information, contact Sue Morgan at (254) 698-8668.

Garland: The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.

Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

Rockport: An herb study group founded in March 2003 meets the second Wednesday of every month at the ACISD Maintenance Department (Formerly Rockport Elementary), 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including the historical uses of the herbs and tips for successful propagation and cultivation.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  Plants to pass along

Passalong plants have survived in gardens for decades by being handed from one person to another. In this lively and sometimes irreverent book, 117 such plants are described, giving particulars on hardiness, size, uses in the garden and horticultural requirements. Although Steve Bender and Felder Rushing live in and write about the South, many of the plants they discuss in Passalong Plants will grow elsewhere.

 $21.30 plus shipping*

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

 *Mention Texas Gardener's Seeds when ordering by phone during the month of June and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  Fiber row cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. © Suntex Communications, Inc. 2007. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Missed an issue? Back issues of Texas Gardener's Seeds are available at www.texasgardener.com/newsletters.

Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

Texas Gardener's Seeds, P.O. Box 9005, Waco, Texas 76714 ● www.TexasGardener.com