October 31, 2007

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John Begnaud, Texas Cooperative Extension county agent for horticulture in Tom Green County, and Wanda Gully, a school counselor, inspect a rainwater harvesting system downspout at Wall Elementary School in West Texas. Begnaud, Gully, and Kay Thompson were instrumental in developing and installing the system, which captures water from the school's roof to irrigate nearby plants and gardens, including a butterfly and vegetable garden. Gully and Thompson also belong to Extension's Master Gardener program.

  Extension’s statewide rainwater harvesting efforts flow toward future

By Mike Jackson, Steve Byrns and Paul Schattenberg
Texas Cooperative Extension

As surface and ground water resources become more limited, rainwater harvesting will keep springing up as part of a long-term solution to water woes, said Texas Cooperative Extension experts.

"Rainwater harvesting reduces demand on the available fresh water supply," said Dr. Bruce Lesikar, an Extension agricultural engineer. "It also reduces the quantity of contaminants that enter our streams and rivers, providing high-quality water for landscaping and other needs."

Lesikar, who along with other Extension personnel throughout Texas educates people on the benefits of rainwater harvesting, said taking steps now to help meet the nation’s future fresh water needs is vital.

"Though Texas had a wet year on 2007, the recent drought, as well as other droughts in the past, has increased the concern over how to conserve and extend water resources," he said. "As with many other states, the surface and groundwater supply in Texas won’t be sufficient to meet future demand. And states with fewer existing water resources have an even more urgent need to develop alternative water supplies."

Rainwater harvesting is a tried-and-true method of capturing, diverting and storing rainwater that has been around for centuries, Lesikar said.

Rainwater is being harvested all over the world, added Billy Kniffen, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Menard County and one of the state’s top experts.

"There are water-harvesting systems all over Australia and Hawaii, and many Caribbean countries collect rainwater (and treat it) for drinking," he said. "Australia is a (world) leader in technology for capturing rainwater, but Texas is a leader in the U.S."

Residential systems have been the focus of much recent interest, Lesikar added. But rainwater harvesting systems also can be used in commercial or government buildings, schools, libraries and community centers, as well as for improving wildlife habitat and other aspects of rangeland management.

Home rainwater harvesting systems can be as simple as capturing water from the roof and channeling it through a downspout into a collection barrel. Systems also can be as elaborate as 10,000-gallon-plus systems for long-term water storage for both non-potable and potable usage.

A basic, "no-frills" 50-gallon home rainwater harvesting system generally costs about $50 in materials, Kniffen said. These materials, which typically include gutters, piping, fittings and a collection barrels, are available at most home improvement centers.

More elaborate water harvesting systems can cost several thousand dollars, he said. The expense depends on roof size, landscape area, amount of water storage desired, whether the water will be for potable or non-potable purposes and other factors.

Rainwater harvesting is not necessarily an economically feasible alternative to potable water use, and it could take a very long time — if ever — for a system to pay for itself, according to Kniffen. But it is "the right thing to do," he said, and it provides a source of good quality water, prevents erosion and helps ensure a fresh water supply for the future.

Kniffen, who practices what he teaches, installed a rainwater harvesting system at his 1,700-square-foot home in Menard in 2002. The 5,500-square-foot combined surface area of his home, patio and barn is used to capture about 16,500 gallons of water in several storage tanks. The water is filtered and treated for both potable and non-potable use and serves as his family's sole source of water.

He collects about 0.6 inches of water per each square foot of collection for each inch of rain, which is typical for rainwater harvesting systems, he said.

Kniffen has helped plan and install rainwater harvesting systems throughout the state. These include a 30,000-gallon collection system for a multi-use community building, a 10,000-gallon system at a livestock show barn, a 3,000-gallon tank for a vineyard, a 2,000-gallon system at a courthouse and a 2,500-gallon system at a library. The library also has a "rain garden," an artificial depression planted with native vegetation that collects and stores storm-water runoff until it can be absorbed into the soil.

Extension has trained dozens of employees and program volunteers to provide educational outreach and technical or hands-on assistance with rainwater harvesting to residents of Texas and beyond.

"Master Gardeners like myself have been trained and certified to teach rainwater harvesting to our interns during classroom instruction and in the community," said Lou Kellogg of San Antonio, a Bexar County Master Gardener. "We help educate people about the benefits of rainwater harvesting, plus any related incentives, such as tax credits and rebates."

Along with Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists receive instruction and training on rainwater harvesting as part of a statewide Rainwater Steward Program. The Master Naturalists program is a joint effort of Extension and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Dr. Dale Rollins, an Extension wildlife specialist at San Angelo, has investigated the benefits of water harvesting on rangelands. In his studies, he uses manmade depressions called spreader dams to capture runoff to determine the impact of rainwater harvesting on scaled and bobwhite quail.

"We’ve created what I call 'quail oases' on ranches in Pecos and Fisher counties," he said. "These yielded about 25 times more vegetation than immediately adjacent rangelands and produced five times more insects, which are a critical component of a quail chick's diet."

Extension educational programs on rainwater harvesting in urban and rural communities represent part of a long-term water solution, Lesikar said. And Extension efforts will grow as the demand for fresh water grows.

"Access to adequate fresh water isn't just an urban issue or a Texas issue; it's a national and a worldwide issue," he said. "We've got to start now to be prepared for the future."

For more information, go to http://rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu/index.html.

Other Extension rainwater harvesting efforts include:

AUSTIN: Travis County Master Gardeners helped build a 7,000-gallon rainwater harvesting demonstration system at Zilker Botanical Garden with funding from the Austin Water Utility Water Conservation Programs. The botanical garden is visited by about a half-million people annually.

FORT WORTH: Extension helped design and build a three-part system at a government office complex. One system collects rain from a warehouse roof and stores it in two 1,500-gallon tanks. The second system captures air-conditioner condensation and channels it into a 65-gallon tank. A third, simpler system collects water from a shed roof and funnels it into two 50-gallon barrels. All the water is used to irrigate a nearby public garden.

HOUSTON: Extension is developing demonstration landscapes in the Houston area as part of its WaterSmart Program. One of these will be an educational system with a rain garden scheduled to be installed the University of Houston at Clear Lake next year.

"We're also looking at rainwater harvesting techniques to create more habitat space for wildlife and for ecosystem-specific landscapes," said Christina LaChance, program coordinator.

MENARD: Rainwater is collected from two downspouts, each on separate sides of the library building and stored in a 2,500-gallon galvanized storage tank. The collected water is used to water native grass plots. The library also has a rain garden.

EDINBURG: Rainwater is collected from the roof of the Hidalgo County Extension office and channeled into different storage tanks, including a 1,000-gallon galvanized tank, 585-gallon polyethylene tank, and 1,000- and 2,000-gallon fiberglass tanks. Collected water is used to irrigate surrounding gardens.

This adult saltcedar beetle is the offspring of beetles collected on the inland of Crete and released to combat invasive saltcedar along the Pecos River in West Texas.

To help combat the program, Dr. Allen Knutson, Extension entomologist at Dallas, and Dr. Jack DeLoach, Agricultural Research Service scientist at Temple, in 2004 successfully established a small population of saltcedar leaf beetles along a creek near Big Spring. Knutson said those beetles have since spread along five miles of the creek and defoliated 40 acres of saltcedar.

  Tiny beetle showing promise in handling a big problem

By Steve Byrns
Texas Cooperative Extension

When imported ornamental trees turn renegade, sometimes it takes an imported killer to chew them down to size.

Texas Cooperative Extension entomologists are using beetles from Crete, Greece, to combat invasive saltcedar along the Pecos River in West Texas.

Saltcedar was first introduced from southern Europe and Asia in the 1800s for erosion control and as an ornamental. Unfortunately, it adapted too well. Now thick stands of rogue trees choke many of the state’s environmentally sensitive western waterways, sucking up water to the exclusion of native vegetation and municipalities.

To help combat the program, Dr. Allen Knutson, Extension entomologist at Dallas, and Dr. Jack DeLoach, Agricultural Research Service scientist at Temple, in 2004 successfully established a small population of saltcedar leaf beetles along a creek near Big Spring.

Knutson said those beetles have since spread along five miles of the creek and defoliated 40 acres of saltcedar.

Last year, Extension organized the Saltcedar Biological Control Implementation Program to release more beetles at sites in the Upper Colorado River Watershed and along the Pecos River.

The goal is to establish new populations of beetles at additional sites and thus speed the rate of biological control, Knutson said.

Releases of beetles by Knutson's colleague Dr. Mark Muegge, Extension entomologist at Fort Stockton, at two sites on the Pecos River have been especially successful.

Beetles were released in mid-summer of 2006 and defoliated several trees before cold weather stopped them. Muegge said the adult beetles overwintered and began feeding and reproducing in April. Populations at both Pecos River sites increased and dispersed during the summer.

By mid-October, beetles had defoliated more than 500 saltcedar trees across about 90 acres along the Pecos River, said Muegge. “The rapid success at these sites demonstrates the potential these beetles have for long-term suppression of saltcedar on the Pecos River.

The saltcedar leaf beetle eats the trees' leaves, Knutson said. Without leaves, the tree can not manufacture food. Once defoliated, the saltcedar regrows new leaves which are soon eaten by another generation of beetles. After repeated defoliation, the trees slowly starve to death.

“After four consecutive years of defoliation, trees at the original Big Spring site are starting to die,” Knutson said. "We think the same will happen on the Pecos River."

Muegge said most of the Pecos River saltcedar was killed by an aerial herbicide program conducted by the Pecos River Ecosystem Project during 1999-2005. However, he said some landowners did not give permission for herbicides to be applied to the saltcedar on their land, or efforts to contact the landowners were unsuccessful. An estimated 3,000 acres of unsprayed saltcedar remain in the Pecos River corridor.

“These islands of living saltcedar pose an imminent threat to re-infesting the Pecos through seed dispersal,” Knutson said. “Trees defoliated by saltcedar leaf beetles produce very few blooms and, as a result, few if any seeds.

“Thus, while it may take four or five years of repeated defoliation by saltcedar beetles to kill a saltcedar tree, the lack of leaves due to the beetles’ feeding creates stress on the tree which limits seed production and allows grasses and other desirable plants to grow where saltcedar once dominated.”

The Biological Control Implementation Program plans to establish saltcedar leaf beetles at other sites in the Pecos River watershed in 2008.

Muegge said research by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists demonstrated that the beetles feed and reproduce only on saltcedars and do not pose a threat to any crop or native plant. Both adults and larvae feed on saltcedar leaves, but larvae eat more leaves.

Knutson said federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approved the release of the beetles in Texas.

The saltcedar biological control project on the Pecos River was conducted in cooperation with the Reeves County Water Improvement District #2 and the Pecos County Water Improvement District #3.

  Gardening tips

"Most woody herbs will form roots where a section of stem is pegged into the soil," writes Bob Davis. "Use a large stone or concrete block to help keep the pinning in good contact with the soil. After rooting, cut the resulting plants from the parent and replant where desired."

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...

One plant to site carefully is the strongly scented rue. Long connected with magic, curses and goblins, many old-fashioned gardeners won’t grow it at all. Root secretions have been know to damage brassicas and may prevent basil from growing. Kind of spooky, huh?


  Upcoming garden events

Independence: The Antique Rose Emporium at 10,000 FM 50 in Independence will host their 20th Fall Festival of Roses November 2 through 4. Speakers, who will present a variety of garden related topics, include Dave Wittenger, Dave’s Garden Web; Stephen Scaniello, Heritage Rose Foundation; and Chris Carley, National Arboretum Horticulturist. All seminars are free to the public. Old Garden roses, including Earthkind and Pioneer Roses, herbs, perennials, and Texas natives will be available for sale. For additional information, visit www.weareroses.com or call (979) 836-5548.

Alvin: "Autumn Bounty" flower show and plant sale, sponsored by Alvin, Kemah Bay Area, and Dig N Design garden clubs, will be held Saturday, November 3, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., at the Alvin Senior Citizens Center, 309 W. Sealy St., Alvin.

New Braunfels: Hill Country Orchid Society's "Wurst Orchid Show & Sale" will take place Saturday and Sunday, November 3 and 4, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., at the New Braunfels Elks Lodge, 353 S. Seguin, New Braunfels. Admission is free. For more information, call (830) 629-2083.

League City: The Kemah Bay Area Garden Club will hold its next meeting at 9:45 a.m., Wednesday, November 7, at the Amegy Bank, 303 East Main Street, League City. The program will be "Orchids: Secrets of Success" presented by John Stubbing, Horticulturist. A light lunch will be served and the public is invited. For additional information, call Nancy Busko at (281) 332-5294.

Orange: The Leaf and Petal Garden Club and the Orange County Master Gardeners have partnered to sponsor a presentation by Chris Wiesinger. Wiesinger is the founder and owner of the Southern Bulb Company, a flower bulb farm in East Texas that offers perennial flower bulbs for warm climates. Most SBC bulbs are time-tested heirlooms once forgotten in the trade and now rescued from old home sites destined for commercial developments and highway expansions projects. Wiesinger and his Southern Bulb Company seek to recapture something that was once "lost" to the Southern gardener: heirloom and rare flower bulbs that thrive in warm climates. Wiesinger, a 2004 Horticulture graduate from Texas A&M and now known as the "bulb hunter," will lead a journey through time and the South, delighting listeners with adventurous stories and information on perennial bulbs for Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana gardens. The open-to-the-public event will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, November 8, at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center, 602 Green Ave., Orange. For additional event information and/or directions, contact Susan at chefsuz1212@gt.rr.com.

League City: The Gulf Coast Garden Forum will hold its next meeting on at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, November 13 at the Amegy Bank, 303 East Main Street, League City. The program will be "The Lowly Mushroom" by Ellen Hutto, Saltgrass Science Program. Light refreshments are served and the public is invited. For additional information, call Nancy Busko at (281) 332-5294.

Waco: Many composers have been inspired by the sounds of nature, and the Waco Symphony Orchestra will present three inspired compositions Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 (Pastorale), Copland's "An Outdoor Adventure" and Respighi's "Pines of Rome" — in "Musical Landscapes," an all-orchestral celebration of the out-of-doors on Thursday, November 15. The concert, held in Waco Hall on the Baylor University campus in Waco, begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets go on sale October 1 and may be purchased by phoning (254) 754-0851 or on-line at www.wacosymphony.com.

Galveston: Festive sights and sounds will fill Moody Gardens at the sixth annual Festival of Lights November 17 through January 5. This whimsical celebration will kick off the holiday season on November 17, with Santa Claus parachuting in to switch on the lights. Festival of Lights is celebrated Thursday through Sunday November 17 through December 16, and daily beginning December 17. Transforming its lush tropical garden setting into a winter wonderland, Moody Gardens will be adorned with more than a million twinkling lights and dozens of light displays. In addition to experiencing the lights, guests can also strap on a pair of skates and glide across the ice at the Outdoor Ice Rink at Moody Gardens. Indoors, visitors can take pictures with Santa or even gaze upon a giant poinsettia tree. Moody Gardens will feature a variety of holiday-themed films during the Festival of Lights. Three films will be playing at the IMAX 3D theater and two films will be playing at the Ridefilm theater. The Garden Restaurant will feature a delectable holiday buffet, offered from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Group rates of $20 per person are also available for groups of 20 or more, and include admission to Festival of Lights and the holiday buffet. Admission into the Festival of Lights is $5.95, and tickets to additional attractions including the Rainforest Pyramid, holiday IMAX 3D film, holiday Ridefilm, Outdoor Ice Rink and Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, can be purchased for only $4.00 each. For more information, call Moody Gardens at (800) 582-4673 or visit www.moodygardens.org.

Lake Jackson: For several years John Panzarella has hosted a citrus tasting and open house in his backyard, 404 Forest Drive, Lake Jackson, which is about 50 miles south of Houston. The next open house will be Saturday, December 15 from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Taste 40 to 50 citrus varieties and see different varieties of fruit trees. Panzarella has approximately 200 different varieties of citrus, 50% to 70% fruiting, plus several varieties of persimmon, sapote, guava, pawpaw, loquat, pomegranate, avocado, papaya, fig, peach, passion fruit, mango and pecan trees growing in his backyard. You are invited to visit, taste the citrus, and see one of the largest citrus collections in the state of Texas and the largest collection north of the Texas Rio Grand valley. See the giant Panzarella orange and the giant 10 lb. Panzarella cluster lemons. You will also have the opportunity to view a multi-grafted tree which has grapefruits, tangerines and oranges growing on it. For more information, call (979) 297-2120, e-mail jpanza@swbell.net, or visit http://johnpanza.googlepages.com.

Houston: Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale will be held Saturday, January 19, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. A class describing all varieties for sale, as well as providing vital information on how to plant and care for each type tree will be held January 5 and 12 (your choice), from 2 to 4 p.m. A nominal fee of $10 is charged for the class. Register for the class by calling Urban Harvest. Sale and classes at Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Dr., Houston. For detailed information about the sale as well as about fruit trees, check the Urban Harvest website www.urbanharvest.org.

Burnet: The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association will sponsor the 10th Annual Hill Country Lawn and Garden Show, March 22, from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Burnet Community Center on E. Jackson in downtown Burnet. The show features garden-related vendors, a children's booth, a raffle, and seminars. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://hillcountrylgshow.com or call Paula Montandon, Show Chairman, at (830) 693-0163.

Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at a new eco-farm in Kilgore. If there is enough interest, we will also start a Sunday afternoon monthly meeting. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

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.

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets the third Thursday of each month at the Texas Cooperative Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak at 7 p.m.  For more information, phone (830) 379-1972 or visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.

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.

  The New Book Of Salvias features 15 new species

Fifteen new species have been added to the revised edition of Betsy Clebsch's time-honored guide that covers more than 100 species of salvias in one colorful book. Blooming cycles, cultural practices and companion plants are listed. This is a great gift for those wishing to add low-maintenance plants to the landscape.

$31.97 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 October 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.)


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