April Update (of sorts)

posted Apr 26, 2012, 6:34 AM by RH Jannini   [ updated Oct 8, 2012, 5:00 AM ]

Seeing that spring has arrived and we are past our last (?) snowstorm, it only makes sense to begin laying out the this year's wildflower seeds and with that it provides an excellent opportunity to segue into some of our larger ongoing projects here at the Institute.

Wildlife Garden

This is our fifth year in working towards a balanced and sustainable wildlife garden for our adjacent lot. If you have a chance to look through our gallery you will see that our practice started simply by creating small islands of high grass and wildflowers, to a more intricate and diversified walking trail.

Needless to say, it is all a work in process and we've been fortunate to have the support and help from friends and neighbors that appreciate the idea that living in the countryside can be a cooperative venture with nature. Most importantly we have the opportunity to introduce more and more people about the advantages of developing sustainable landscaping for their property.

One of this season's disappointments has been the slow movement of the excavation site adjacent to us. Last fall, the Habitat for Humanity group needed a space to temporarily store their topsoil for the house that was being built. We offered them the opportunity to store that material on our lot where we maintain our wildlife garden, with the idea that sometime in the early spring the lot would be returned and we would be able to reseed that area with a more beneficial grass.

Needless to say, that landscaping work is running slightly behind schedule and a significant portion of our wildlife garden is basically now a mound of dirt with errant grass growing about. Hopefully they will be able to get back on track so that we can reclaim that portion of our lot and not impact this year's wildlife garden too much.

Meanwhile we have been able to begin the trail cuts and basic outline for half the lot adjacent to the street front and begin planting seeds in areas where we don't anticipate heavy equipment movement to be moving. In fact, the lessons learned regarding Earth movement and staging has been a great help to identifying areas that can be utilized with minimal disturbances later in the season.

Even the back half of this garden lot will still have some late impact as we are installing storm water management along the backside of the lot while working towards creating a small storm water retention pond in the back corner of the wildlife garden.

One new addition that we've been adding to our gardening and beautification areas, is making use and re-purpose the dead areas along the front of the properties. These decaying and fragmented sections of the former church sidewalk are being transformed into wildflower beds and help reduce storm water pooling along the roadside.

We will be uploading photos of these flowerbeds along with the work we're doing for natural trellises along our property edges and in parts of our wildlife garden.

Sustainable. Clean. Water project

Well, we've received the funding of our initial stage from the Sprout Fund and are facing the one problem we really wanted to avoid. Primarily, securing a contractor to excavate and work on the project during one of the busiest seasons. Suffice to say, it seems to be a project that will be done piecemeal in individual multi-day shifts as opposed to a straight 2 to 3 days of work from a single contractor.

Apart from not having our hole dug or any substantial landscaping, we have been able to move forward in other aspects to secure materials and plants (seeds) as well as do more in site prep work and planning before the equipment actually gets here. All the while judiciously watching our expenses so that we can be sure we can get some equipment time to polish off some items which inevitably be unexpected.

Still we feel confident that we can be on track and have a developed system well in advance of our Labor Day opening and demonstration, undoubtedly with less flowering plant life to frame it. Regardless this doesn't keep us from longer-term benefits of the rainwater harvesting even though we expected the stunted plants that are being transplanted about the project area.

Storm water management?

One twist that we discovered during the early writing of our initial grant proposal was the need to isolate storm water from all the rainwater being used in this project. The reason is simple, because no one can be sure what types of contaminants are in surface water during a storm. We can be reasonably assured that the water being captured off of the roof will have a limited number of known contaminants. The obvious contaminants are the leaves and sticks from adjacent trees, bird droppings and other natural materials, and of course the acid rain from our neighboring coal-fired powerplants.

Surprisingly, the acid rain is easiest to treat even if it is one of the most noxious sounding items. The balance of the contaminants likewise can be treated naturally as well. Later in future posts, will be describing some of the beneficial systems that are in place that work mysteriously behind-the-scenes.

A few years back we invited the conservation Department of our County to walk the back edge of our property with concerns of storm water impacting our lots. We compared notes and came to similar conclusions but the installation of a swale could act as a diversion ditch with some small retention ponds added.  This way the storm water can be redirected to the appropriate storm water drains while providing storm water for some of the plant life on the back half of the property.

Here in Greene County like much of the Southwest Western regions of Pennsylvania our "soil" has an inordinate amount of clay and very little topsoil. Basically what this means, is that storm water in this area moves along a very shallow subsurface providing very little chance for recharging the soil beneath it. The desire to better manage the storm water is one of the issues this county faces in its 10 year plan.

Curiously, Pittsburgh and its highly dense urbanized infrastructure has a similar storm water management issued due to the large number of impermeable surfaces throughout the city and its adjacent municipalities. It is apparently the storm surges of water being introduced to the system to create backflow issues and unduly tax the infrastructure managed to maintain normal storm water capacities. The only difference in a very simplified manner is that this county has more ground surface to deal with.

But we digress, to remedy the problem discussed earlier in a way that is beneficial to the area land, the property, and our existing storm water system it's necessary to slow things down and once again allow nature to work with us.

The existing bank will basically be stripped down of its topsoil to reveal the heavy clay content below. From there we'll take a large amount of loose gravel that is being removed in our other project and use that to create a channel for storm water to travel along the grade to the storm water system. On the down slope side of this crushed gravel we will be placing additional Clay-based fill from our excavation to help storm water to stay in that channel we created.

Finally we'll be adding the balance of fill to complete the retention swale which will be seeded with native plant life complementary to the limited amount of sun that area receives in the afternoon. It was our hope (and actually still is) that much of that retention swale would be comprised of re-claimed tires but to date we have not been able to find a sufficient source to build from (strangely enough!).

Well that's about it for now, is more to be written but to be honest when these writing spurts occur it can be bit of a deluge of information and it is good to hold back on releasing everything at once so that there is something to release when said writing spurt fails to occur. 

Meanwhile enjoy the spring and if you really are interested in something that's not only cool but very helpful; check out SproutBot it's really a great site that helps you plan your planting cycles, and even provides helpful e-mail updates (without spam) as friendly reminders.

Check Out Our New Logo

posted Oct 12, 2009, 5:35 PM by Church Admin   [ updated Aug 18, 2011, 2:19 PM by RH Jannini ]

Thought people may be interested in our new logo.  We like it because it evoke so many elements of what is being done under these roofs and in our minds.

The tree is a natural earth icon, when grounded in fertile soil it can grow to great heights, provided it receives the sunshine, fresh air, rich nutrients and water to continue its growth. 

It branches reach out to area previously unexplored while being grounded to the the tree and its root (principals).

The SUN, AIR, EARTH, WATER are just some of the assets we share and seek to work with in a complimentary and holistic manner. 

It is our hope that one of our leafs will touch upon your life in this same manner.

Putting ourselves on the MAP

posted Oct 12, 2009, 4:33 PM by Church Admin   [ updated Oct 7, 2012, 10:39 AM by RH Jannini ]

As discussed in other posts, we have been a recognized Wildlife Garden by the National Wildlife Foundation.

Although the registration of Wildlife Gardens has been a 35 year old program, too many have never heard of it.

This private wildlife garden is one of the demonstration projects of the theCHURCHinstitute working on low-impact landscaping. 

This lot represents the size of most traditional urban building lots with a dimension of 79' x 149'.  It maintains its certification through the use of native plant life, thickets for nesting and habitat, shallow water source for puddling, and supports an environment drought tolerant while requiring minimal fossil fuels or chemicals. 

To be sure, we are not recreating the wheel here.  Much of the Best Management Practices (BMP) for CP10 and CP4D conservation outlined in the  Pennsylvania Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (PA CREP) - with obvious restrictions based on the lot size.

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