Thursday, March 27, 2014

Citizens for a Better South Florida Cistern Preparation Project Phase 2- Drip line irrigation

The cool breeze of Miami in early March was definitely a good time to complete the second phase of the Cistern project at the Citizens for a Better South Florida Bungalow. Once again the Urban Conservation Unit(UCU) joined forces with the University of Miami’s (UM) Engineers without Borders volunteers. The day's goal: install the drip line irrigation for the cistern-based system.
UF-UCU talks with UM Engineers without Borders!
We had the opportunity to listen to certified professionals Kevin Cavioli and Spencer Phillips explain different aspects of working with drip line.
Kevin talks drip!
Spencer lays out the plan
Drip irrigation is by far the best way to water shrubs, ornamental or trees because the water is dispensed at the root of the plant which is exactly where we want it.
Drip line
Though not as intense as digging trenches and cutting pipe, the day's labor was worth it. After the drip irrigation was installed, the lines were tested to check for clogs and also to ensure that all connections were correctly attached.
Drip line test
The UCU is excited to be part of this project, not only did we get to learn a few new skills in drip installation from the pro's but we also enjoyed very much working alongside great groups like Citizens for a Better South Florida and the UM Engineers without Borders. We'll definitely return to do our part for the final phases of work.

(images: Michael Gutierrezwater resources technician with UF/IFAS in the Ag & Bio Engineering Dept.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Citizens for a Better South Florida Cistern Preparation Project

In January I put down my clipboard and picked up some PVC pipe for an innovative irrigation project at the Citizens for a Better South Florida Bungalow located in Little Havana. When finished, this effort is going to be a monument to conservation for all of Miami to enjoy. Work is currently underway and of course the Urban Conservation Unit (UCU) is assisting every step of the way. 

The project is centered on an old, underground rainwater collection cistern. The cistern will be used as the main water source for irrigation at the site. 

Cistern located at the Citizens for a Better South Florida Bungalow 
The irrigation layout includes a weather-based irrigation timer, the landscape grouped into hydro-zones, and temporary, low-volume irrigation. Initially, the system will be used to establish new, low-maintenance and native plants and later only in the event of extreme drought. It will also serve to demonstrate for visitors and the community that, with a little planning, re-used water can fuel an efficient irrigation design.

Jesus Lomeli (UCU tech) talks smart irrigation
After a half-day of trenching and pipe-laying, phase one of the cistern preparation project is complete. All of this was only possible thanks to the large volunteer turnout from University of Miami’s Engineers without Borders and help from a water tech from UF

Volunteers trenching it up!
We'll definitely keep you posted as the project moves forward.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: The Year of Watering Efficiently

Smart irrigation controllers have grown in popularly in the recent years. The Urban Conservation Unit (UCU) believes that new technology like smart irrigation controllers can not only reduce water-use significantly but also maintain a wonderful, stress free landscape.
Weather based irrigation controller
However, many are still on the fence on whether to upgrade their irrigation timers to a smart controller. Well, if that’s you, UF's new mobile smart irrigation turf app will make you a believer. Available free at your favorite app store, the smart turf app allows you to mimic a smart controller with a mobile device by sending you alerts on how much time to set on your irrigation timer as well as when to turn it off, just like having a smart controller in the palm of your hand! Once you note the water savings for yourself using the smart turf app, you may be more willing to install an actual smart controller at your property.

The UCU can help you decide which smart controller suits your property best as well as recommend other ways to maximize water savings. If you live in Miami-Dade County and are considering installing a smart irrigation controller for your property, contact the UCU right now. Phone, twitter, facebook or email, we're here to help!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dear John Letter to St. Augustine Grass

This New Year's, send a Dear John letter to St. Augustine grass.
"Dear St. Augustine Grass:
"I know we've been together for a long time. When I first let you into my life, it seemed like a good idea -- you looked great and I was getting a lot of pressure to start a relationship with you.
"But now, I look out my window and see you sprawled out across my yard and I realize that you're high maintenance, you drink too much, and you have an unhealthy relationship with the landscapers; I see them give you those chemicals.
"What I'm saying is that it's not me, it's you, and ... I'm going native. Yes, this is the right decision. I've been talking to my friends the manatees, dolphins, fish, and birds and they agree with me; we're all sooo over you."
It's that time of year to start pondering New Year's resolutions. One fantastic thing you can do for Florida's environment is to convert your yard to Florida-friendly landscaping. This cuts down on water use, which protects Florida's rivers and aquifer; reduces fertilizer use, which protects our coastal waters; and provides habitat for wildlife.
If you live in an apartment complex or an HOA that just won't budge, install a rain barrel, a compost bin, and plant native species of flowers, trees, and shrubs in those areas over which you do have control, and talk to your neighbors and management about making changes to the property that could lower maintenance fees.
The University of Florida IFAS Extension offices can help provide tips and resources. Find your local office at The website also contains great information.
If we all resolve to do a little more, we'll make a big difference for this beautiful state we call home.
Dr. Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club Maitland, Florida

Read more here:

Friday, November 1, 2013

South Florida Water Management District Rainy Season Recap

South Florida Water Levels Are Well Positioned for the Dry Season Start

National Weather Service outlook is for drier-than-normal conditions

photo of dry landscapeFollowing an above-average wet season, South Florida water levels are positioned to handle a drier-than-average start to the dry season, officials announced on Oct. 18 at a joint briefing by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the National Weather Service (NWS).
"Above-average wet season rainfall provided South Florida with some insurance going into the driest months of the year," said Susan Sylvester, SFWMD Chief of the Water Control Operations Bureau. "We remain mindful, however, that a sustained period of below-average dry season rainfall can have a significant impact on water levels."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center forecast calls for drier-than-normal conditions. The absence of an El Niño or La Niña, however, creates a higher level of uncertainty in the forecast, according to the NWS.
Among the official forecast highlights for the 2013-2014 South Florida dry season:
  • Below-normal precipitation
  • A possibility of near to slightly above-normal temperatures
  • Precipitation in an average dry season: 12 to 15 inches in the interior/west to 15 to 21 inches in the east
Entering the dry season, Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties remain above normal, while Water Conservation Area 1 in Palm Beach County is slightly below normal. Overall, water levels across South Florida are at or near their targets for this time of year, with regulation schedules designed to reflect that the hurricane season does not officially end until Nov. 30.
Wet Season Update
South Florida's 2013 wet season produced above-average rainfall in the entire 16-county District, from Orlando to the Florida Keys. District-wide, an average of 39.03 inches of rain, or 6.42 inches above the average, fell between May 19 and Oct. 9. This time period reflects the start and end of the daily sea breeze cycle that characterizes the wet season.
This year's summer season produced several notable numbers:
  • Wettest July since 2001
  • Wettest June since 2005
  • Combination of late May through July months led to the wettest start to the wet season since 1968
  • Wettest April-through-July period on record in South Florida since 1932
  • Wettest April-through-September period District-wide since 1960
  • Tropical Storm Andrea in June produced 3.1 inches of rain District-wide — about as much rain as the District receives in an average year from tropical activity
The Kissimmee and Southwest Coast regions experienced the largest rainfall totals, ranging from 9.63 inches above-average in Lee and Collier counties to 18.61 inches above-average in Highlands and Okeechobee counties. Florida's east coast ranged from 3.82 inches above-average in Martin and St. Lucie counties to 4.34 inches and 5.88 inches above average in Palm Beach and Broward counties, respectively.
Miami-Dade County received the least amount of rainfall in populated areas during the wet season, with 1.44 inches above average.
Lake Okeechobee, which stood at 15.26 feet on Oct. 31, received 34.65 inches of rain during the wet season, representing 126 percent of average or 7.14 inches above average. The Everglades Agricultural Area received 36.30 inches of rainfall, representing 120 percent of average or 6.01 inches above average.
Some highlights of South Florida's recent weather roller coaster include:
  • Normal: Florida receives an average of 52 inches of rainfall a year, with 70 percent falling during the five-month wet season from approximately June through October.
  • Wet Conditions: The 2013 wet season produced the wettest start to the wet season since 1968 and the wettest April-through-July period on record in South Florida since 1932.
  • Record Wet Conditions: Tropical Storm Isaac in late August 2012 proved to be a 1-in-100 year storm event.
  • Record Dry Conditions: January 2012 was the driest January in the agency’s 16-county region since recordkeeping began in 1932.
  • Record Dry Conditions: The 2011 wet season saw one of its latest starts in 20 years following the driest October-to-mid-June period on record.
  • Record Wet Conditions: In 2009, the sea breeze cycle ushered in the wet season in May. With 9.04 inches of rain falling across the District, May 2009 became the wettest May on record, according to District records dating back to 1932.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Green Leafy Vegetables from Miami Green Bytes Fall 2013

Come October it’s time to plant out local vegetable gardens, but for some leafy greens it is best to wait until the cooler weather of mid-November.  Temperatures that are too high can interfere with germination of seeds, e.g., above 75ºF lettuce seeds become dormant.  Some items such as collards, mustard greens and cabbage, where optimum germination requires warmer soil temperatures, can be planted earlier.  However subsequent growth of these and the other commonly grown leafy greens requires cool temperatures, especially during their latter phase of growth before harvesting.  Cabbages for instance will grow at temperatures as low as 42ºF, but cease growing above 76ºF.  As temperature increase, most of these vegetables develop a more pronounced, bitter taste.  For optimum quality this means setting out plants in Miami-Dade so that they reach maturity during the months from December to February. 

   Kale was until recently just another minor vegetable, but has recently risen to prominence as one of the most healthful and nutritious of all leafy greens.  In Florida it has mostly been a backyard crop; the main problem is the short season as it is not suited to hot weather.  Temperatures above 75°F will see a decline in quality with less compact leaves and increasing bitterness.
   Closely related to cabbage, but with a shorter season (November to January), kale produces a rosette of leaves (usually curly) atop a thick stem.  It requires a sunny site with moist, enriched but free draining soil.  On sandy soil incorporate organic matter (compost, dried manure), while on bare Miami limestone a raised bed is recommended.   Kale is quite salt tolerant so is a good choice for coastal gardens.   It is usual to sow seeds directly (if preferred they can first be grown 3-4 weeks in advance as transplants); scatter a complete slow release vegetable fertilizer and irrigate to keep soil moist.  Kale readily germinates (4-7 days) – as the plants grow thin out to a spacing of at least 12” between plants (thinnings can be consumed).
   There is no precise time as to when to harvest kale – about 2 months from sowing seed, after which lower leaves can be consumed as they reach a suitable size, continuing until they become excessively bitter.  Kale is not as troubled with pests as much as other leafy greens – leaf chewing caterpillars and cut worms are of principal concern.
   Recommended varieties for Florida: Dwarf Blue, Curled Variety’s; Dwarf Siberian, Tuscan; Winterbor and Redbor.
 Spinach is not an important commercial crop in Florida; again the main constraint is climate.  Spinach seed germination is poor at temperature above 77°F; subsequent growth is optimum at 68°F.   With increasing day length and temperatures above 75°F spinach becomes more likely to bolt (flowering is initiated at which time vegetative growth stops, the plant flowers and goes to seed). 
   The planting area should be in full sun; like kale, spinach is quite tolerant of saline soils (it also adapts to high pH soils).  The area should also be free of weeds – weedy relatives of spinach (e.g., pigweed) can harbor diseases and insect pests.  Seed should be sown November to January  using fresh, moist but free draining soil - excessive water can promote damping-off of emerging seedlings due to fungi (Pythium, Rhizoctonia and Fusarium), especially in warm weather.  Spinach is very susceptible to both damping off and root rots; these can be severe problems particularly in Florida. 
    Expect seed germination after 10 days; plants should be spaced 5” apart, 15” between rows.  Spinach has a shallow root system so it will require reliable irrigation – if hand watering, keep water off the leaves to help prevent disease especially downy mildew and white rust.  Provide a light application of slow release vegetable fertilizer.  Apart from diseases, leaf chewing insects can be a problem (various caterpillars); also look for damage due to cut worms, leaf miners and aphids.  Careful application of mulch in between spinach plants can reduce weed growth.  
  Under local conditions it usually takes 6-8 weeks until harvest - the whole plant can be removed or a few leaves at a time over a period of 2-3 weeks.  Once signs of a flowering stem are seen the whole plant should be removed.  Baby spinach, which is popular in salads, is harvested as soon as 3-4 weeks after planting. 
Recommended varieties for Florida:  Virginia Savoy; Dixie Market; Hybrid 7, Regiment-F1 and Renegrade-F1 are claimed to resist bolting.

Cabbage is an important crop in Florida (principal production in Flagler and St Johns counties) though it is grown elsewhere within the state. 
   The earliest cultivated cabbages produced an open whorl of leaves, not the compact head we are familiar with today, and are referred to as non-heading cabbages.  Collards, which are easy to grow, are sometimes referred to as a non-heading cabbage.  The hard heading (occasionally called white) cabbages were developed later in cooler parts of Europe.  The original types formed a rounded tight head of leaves, but later forms had flat, elongated, egg shaped or conical heads.   Due to local mild winters, hard heading cabbages often do not develop a tight compact head; they can still be grown and leaves removed as required for consumption.   Still later came a group of looser heading cabbages with a milder flavor and crinkled leaves, the Savoys.
    Cabbage seed can be directly sown in the ground or used for transplants with a spacing of about 18” between plants and 30” between rows.  Ideally they should receive 6 hours of sun per day but if necessary can take some limited part shade.  Provide moist, enriched but free draining soil and fertilize with a slow release vegetable fertilizer.   
Recommended varieties for Florida:  Gourmet, King Cole, Rio Verde Savoy Ace and Chieftain Savoy. 
   Lettuce is not a major crop in Florida – the main growing area consists of a few large farms around Lake Okeechobee.  There are four main types of lettuce: crisphead (iceberg - the type most often seen in produce stands), romaine (cos), butterhead (Boston) and loose leaf.  Crisphead lettuce is not recommended since it requires a prolonged period of cool weather in order to develop a full tight head.  Leaf lettuce (shown below) is the most heat tolerant and easiest to grow. 
  Choose a site that receives at least 6 hours of sun per day, and enrich soil with organic matter (only use manure that has been thoroughly composted i.e., dried and bagged).   If you grow from seed avoid high soil temperatures (induces seed dormancy)) and barely cover the seeds with soil - lettuce seed requires light to germinate.   If you wish you can grow transplants rather than seeding directly (it is easier to space out plants); many gardeners find it easier to purchase transplants from a garden center.  Leave 8-12” between plants and 20” between rows. 
   It is important to irrigate lettuce as soon as the top of the soil appears to be drying-out (mulch will help to retain soil moisture) and apply a slow release vegetable fertilizer.   Leaf lettuce should be ready after 45 days (transplants) and leaves can be removed as needed Romaine will require at least 65 days and leaves can be removed or the whole head.  Romaine lettuce is popular with local gardeners, though it develops a stronger flavor and tougher leaves with warming temperatures of early spring.
   The principal pests of lettuce are various caterpillars including cutworms, aphids and to a lesser extent leaf miners and cucumber beetles.   Root nematodes can be a serious pest of lettuce; on sandy soil in particular mulching and enriching the soil with organic matter can help control this problem. 
   Recommended varieties for Florida: leaf lettuce - varieties such as Prize Head, Salad Bowl, and Cocarde; Romaine lettuce - Parris Island Cos, Jericho (especially heat tolerant) and Valmaine.

Reprinted from Miami Green Bytes, Fall 2013
Article by Dr. John McLaughlin
To see the entire Fall 2013 issue of Miami Green Bytes click here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rainy Season Update from South Florida Water Management District

Chairman's Message

July Rainfall Helps Produce Wettest Start to Wet Season Since '68

All counties in the SFWMD experienced above-average rain for the month

photo of water storageJuly's soaking of South Florida capped the wettest start to the wet season since 1968 and the wettest April-through-July period on record, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) meteorologists reported. August, however, has provided some respite from the above-average rainfall of the previous four months.
District-wide, 10.36 inches of rain fell in July, representing 147 percent of average, or 3.33 inches above average. All 16 counties in the District saw above-average rainfall for the month, with the central portion of South Florida, including Lake Okeechobee, receiving the highest totals.
Early wet season rainfall topped recorded amounts, including:
  • Wettest July since 2001
  • Wettest June since 2005
  • Combination of late May through July led to the wettest start to the wet season since 1968, or the wettest in 45 years
  • Wettest April-through-July period on record in South Florida since 1932
Since August began, rainfall across the region has eased. Through Aug. 27, 5.17 inches of rain have fallen District-wide, which is 76 percent of average, or 1.61 inches below average.
Water Levels
Following several months of above-average rainfall, water levels are currently at or above scheduled levels in key areas, such as some lakes in the Kissimmee region and the Everglades Water Conservation Areas. With the decline in rainfall in August, however, water levels are beginning to drop closer to preferred wet season targets.
Lake Okeechobee stood at 15.56 feet NGVD on Aug. 28. This is 1.4 feet higher than its historic average for this date. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake level with input from stakeholders including the District, has been making regulatory releases.
South Florida Wet Season Facts
  • On average, South Florida’s wet season begins around May 20 and ends around October 13, lasting for about 21 weeks.
  • Typically, about two-thirds of annual rains fall during the wet season, or approximately 35 inches out of 52 inches.
  • June is usually South Florida’s wettest month.
  • Since 1932, virtually all wet seasons have produced 2 to 4 feet of rainfall.
  • South Florida’s wet season has three general phases:
    • Memorial Day weekend through July 4 weekend, which are typically the wettest six weeks of the year.
    • Early July through mid-August, which are hotter and often drier.
    • Late August through October, which are characterized by highly variable rainfall mainly due to tropical activity and cold fronts.

To read the entire The Ripple Effect click here