An ongoing attempt at being river friendly

When my husband Adam and I first moved into our home last summer, we had grand ideas about what we should do with our front and back yards. He is an intern architect, so he has access to computer programs that facilitate all of our planning. But planning is just the beginning and now I feel overwhelmed after visiting the garden tended by Sacramento resident, David Roberts.
Roberts is an environmentalist who draws on nature for inspiration. He is a professional landscaper by trade, so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself when I look at the Bermuda grass that blankets my front yard. I’ve heard time and again that lawns suck up so much water, so I’d like to get rid of that one day and plant an orchard of fruit trees, which is easier said than done, I know.
When I found out that Roberts used Round-Up to get rid of his Bermuda grass back in 1987, I realized even the most environmentally friendly people use that stuff I’ve heard called many bad names.
Even though our hottest days are probably gone for the year, Roberts said there’s still some opportunity to get to “ground zero” if I want to get rid of my crummy lawn. He added that it’s actually a good time if you want to get started. “Planning as you get into the cooler season is great, because the soil is warm still, but the temperatures begin to moderate and the plants are able to be under less stress.”
This is good news because as I learned from Dave Tamayo, environmental specialist for Sacramento County, no matter what kind of plant you get, if you put it in a place not too healthy, it will be stressed and won’t be able to fight off chemicals such as the Round-Up I’m about to purchase.
Tamayo is an entomologist, or as I’d like to say a bug expert, who explained that most bugs in your garden aren’t necessarily bad bugs. And, Roberts teaches a Green Gardener course in West Sacramento (which is now underway). He’s trying to change the minds of professionals.
“(They) think they know the industry, which from their perspective, they do, but we’re trying to bend their minds into new practices and change the way things are done a bit,” he said. That is, he’s trying to get people to be more environmentally friendly.
Tamayo and Roberts are both advocates for River Friendly Landscaping guidelines. There are seven of them that I need to remember as we undergo this major landscaping transformation.
One includes water conservation – which by getting rid of my lawn will eventually get me there. That is the foot in the door, as Roberts says, but it’s still just one piece of the pie.
Another is to create a healthy soil. Roberts said native plants don’t always need a lot of fancy nutrients, but when you have an old garden that may have been doused with fertilizers, you will have to rebuild the health of the garden.
“We’re taking a lesson from nature, instead of from man,” he said. “We invented fertilizers, which helped us with our crops, but on the other hand, we also ignored the natural systems, and, in some cases, helped to deteriorate them through chemical use.”
Roberts explained that the soil food web is all the microorganisms: fungi, bacteria, bugs, that all create soil structure. Just by having organic matter as mulching, he said, begins the process because the mulch gets deteriorated and it’s taken into the ground by certain organisms.
OK, but how can you differentiate between good bugs and bad bugs? That was my question for Tamayo, who chuckled a little before simply stating if you see bugs damaging your plants, those are the bad ones. Then he threw a wrench into the logic and said if your plant is having a problem, you need to be sure you know what’s causing it. I guess you could think bugs are killing your plants when something else is.
Tamayo said people apply insecticides to lawns, even though in California insects are rarely the problem to them. There are a bunch of tests you can try on your lawn if you think bugs are ruining it. (See for more on that.)
Fortunately when you do have lawn insects, a lot are susceptible to nematodes, or micro worms, that can harm the insects that are damaging your lawn. I understand you have to be good at following directions if that’s the route you go as they are susceptible to drying out, not to mention, expensive. Tamayo said rather than killing the insects, the nematodes give the insects a bacterial disease, turning some insects red.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot about environmentally friendly gardening, but am nowhere closer than I was before. Well, Roberts did at one point during an interview call his plants his children and, at another, said that not all his clients want to tend a garden — they want a landscape.
Maybe that’s more my style. I’d love to be all Zen and take the 10 minutes a day to unwind by tending the garden, but shoot, it’s going to be dark by the time I get home.
If I ever get to that point of Zen gardening, I plan on incorporating all of the river friendly landscape guidelines: Water conservation, soil health, water and air quality, landscape locally, wildlife habitat, less to the landfill, and conserve energy. Read more:
And I’ll remember to water only between the hours 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. For spring through fall, odd number addresses water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Even number addresses water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. During winter, watering is only allowed on Saturdays or Sundays.

Leafy controversy sure to raise a few rakes in Sacramento

To help the City of Sacramento save money, collecting your next batch of leaves from in front of your home may cost you more, particularly if you live in a very “leafy” neighborhood.

LEAF COLLECTIONS are often made with tractors in neighborhoods such as Land Park, Curtis Park, East Sacramento and the Pocket. / Photo courtesy, Steve Harriman

LEAF COLLECTIONS are often made with tractors in neighborhoods such as Land Park, Curtis Park, East Sacramento and the Pocket. / Photo courtesy, Steve Harriman

Yard waste collection is provided by the City’s Department of General Services. Residents with this service can place a single pile of yard waste, up to two cubic yards, between the sidewalk and the curb for collection.

This spring the Department of General Services will ask the City Council to place a measure on the November 2012 ballot repealing 1977’s Measure A, the law which prohibits the City from requiring containerized yard and garden collection.

“Our primary objective is not to raise rates for several years, but part of the challenge is it’s very inefficient and expensive to have two different green waste programs,” explained Steve Harriman, integrated waste manager. He said his office operates like a business and staff are currently looking at different scenarios for the collection programs.

“The monthly collection fees we charge customers pay for labor, employees, disposal of the material, equipment, maintenance and replacement,” Harriman said.

The City collects a total of 80,000 tons of green waste through the City’s two programs, the Containerized Yard Waste Collection Program and the Loose-in-the-Street  Collection Program.

City officials say that current rates for the Loose-in-the-Street program aren’t enough to pay for the program. An increase may need to occur to help the city’s budget.

Nearly 13,000 residents on the program pay $13.71 a month to have their bags collected. Only those on the program have their piled leaves on the streets picked up. If rates don’t increase, frequency of pick-up of leaf piles and lawn trimmings for those who don’t use green bins would have to be reduced.

“During leaf season, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the City collects nearly 27,000 tons of yard waste,” said Harriman. “Containers are not enough during this time of the year. The leaf collection program helps keep leaves from blocking storm drains and prevents decaying leaves from polluting our lakes and streams.”

Nearly 103,000 city residents use the 96 galloon green bins that the City provides, at a monthly rate of $10.35 for the weekly pick-up. They also benefit from the loose leaf service eight times a year. A majority of the residents on the program live in midtown, Land Park, Curtis Park, East Sacramento, the Pocket, and Del Paso Heights.

“It only takes one employee and one vehicle to pick up the bin collection, therefore using much less fuel, less traffic congestion,” Harriman said. “Versus the Loose-in-the-Street piles takes two employees and two vehicles with rear loaders and ‘claws’ that scoop up the leaves. The container program also leaves the street quite a bit cleaner, less spillage on the curb, less danger of leaves spilling over onto drains, less residue left behind.”

Brady Helmes lives in the leafy district of Curtis Park and said, “Leaf collection is a basic city service that should be funded through existing revenue. The goal is to have storm drains free from clogs and our neighborhoods looking clean. If this system doesn’t work, then we need to explore other options.”

City staffers are currently working with the Utilities Rate Advisory Commission to come up with new solutions.

“In the next couple of months, we’re also getting ready to go out into the community and neighborhood associations to ask for people’s input,” said Harriman.

One idea the City is playing with is having a bi-weekly collection for their curbside recycling collection.

OVER 27 THOUSAND TONS of leaves are collected by Sacramento’s yard waste collection staff. / Photo courtesy, Steve Harriman

OVER 27 THOUSAND TONS of leaves are collected by Sacramento’s yard waste collection staff. / Photo courtesy, Steve Harriman

“All the other jurisdictions inside Sacramento County pick up every other week. Weekly collection is very convenient and easy for customers, but it’s also very expensive,” Harriman added.

“We used to have it as a bi-weekly pick up in the past, and I think I can live with that if it keeps my monthly rate down,” said Land Park resident Pete Madefield.

The City offers containerized customers eight scheduled Loose-in-the-Street collections per year. To comply with state law, the City can only provide the service as it is defined onto those customers who are paying for it.

  • January: Collection second full week
  • February: Collection last full week
  • May: Collection last full week
  • October: Collection last full week
  • November and December: Collection will be two times per month, however schedules may vary during leaf season

For more information about the Containerized Yard Waste and Loose-in-the-Street Service Guidelines log onto

Illegal dumping an issue for City collectors

City officials from the Waste Program are conducting “spot checks” of city streets to make sure there is no illegal dumping in neighborhoods.

“It’s a headache, people are abusing the program and it’s costing the City money that we could use in other places,” said Harriman. “Gardeners doing yard maintenance in other cities are driving their waste into the City of Sacramento and dumping it in neighborhoods where they know we have regular pickups.”

The Department of General Services has one code enforcement officer whose job is to locate and cite the illegal dumping.

“It’s a big city and the enforcement is difficult, especially when the dumping happens at night,” explained Harriman. “We’ve confronted a number of gardeners, but it’s also helpful if residents that see the illegal dumping report it so we can take action.”

Where does all the waste go?

Waste collections from city residents are not recycled back to Sacramento.

“The collected leaves are made into compost to fertilize agriculture lands and landscaped areas outside of Sacramento, “ explained William Skinner, collections superintendent. “Compost places in urban areas like Sacramento are hard to manage. They always have an odor that affects the neighboring homes.”

Yard waste consists of materials normally generated in the maintenance of gardens, yards, lawns, or landscaped areas whether residential, commercial or public. This includes leaves, grass clippings, plants, shrubs and pruning. State law says that 50 percent of all waste generated in the City of Sacramento is to be recycled.

The Department of General Services works with a private company that takes the collected material for different types of recyclable usage:

  • Alternative daily cover goes to Yolo County Landfill. The garbage has to be covered with dirt and other material, such as yard waste to keep birds and other animals away from the landfill.
  • Cogeneration facilities burn waste materials as a fuel source at Rio Bravo-Rocklin Power Station in Lincoln. The burning occurs mainly in the spring and summer months.
  • Compost and mulch facilities turn waste into compost and this then goes to Napa County. The compost is mixed with manure and sold for agricultural use in the area.