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Creating a watershed-friendly property

Recently, the Nurture Nature Center in Easton teamed up with Penn State Extension's "Master Watershed Steward Program" to offer a Watershed-Friendly Property Certification program.

Offering a landscape with a rich biodiverse plant community, hosting a mix of native perennials and annuals, choosing permeable surfaces over solid surfaces, reducing chemical use, and giving water a place to move on your grounds that replenish gardens instead of flooding sewers are all ways to help your local watershed.

Watersheds, what are they and who cares?

“ Where and how water flows over and under the land and ultimately into a large body of water defines a watershed and typically names it too. Everyone lives in a watershed and every landowner has a responsibility to ensure the water that runs off or filters through their property flows as slowly as possible and enters local waterways as clean as possible. " —Nurture Nature Center, Easton, PA

Everybody lives in a watershed. Actually, in Emmaus we live in the large watershed of Little Lehigh/Lehigh River and the major watershed is the Delaware River watershed. It is important to practice safe yard and land practices in order to minimize our negative effect on the local waterways which lead into our major watersheds. By slowing the rain and flood waters, we give the water more time to filter out "the bad stuff" like pollution, waste, sediments, pesticides, chemicals, and litter before getting to the main waterways that serve many of our residents. These larger, major watersheds are home to the fish we eat and the water we drink. Later, they work their way out to our main bodies of water lakes, tributaries, seas, and oceans.

Certifying your property as Watershed-friendly

This new program recognizes home and land owners who are taking extra steps to make less waste, collect or store more water during heavy rains or floods in order to slowly release it back into the ground, and who reduce use of harmful chemicals that could pollute or increase algae bloom in larger bodies of water. Almost everyone lives downstream from somebody, so we all need to work together to take small steps towards being better neighbors.

The four objectives of the Watershed-friendly property certification program are

  1. Reducing stormwater run off

  2. Reducing pollution

  3. Conserving water

  4. Supporting wildlife and pollinators

The certification and yard sign show your "commitment to managing a healthy watershed". There is an online application that will grade your property based on daily, weekly, or seasonal maintenance techniques and practices are used at your home. The application was quick and easy and includes questions about rain water runoff practices, behaviors that reduce water pollution, conserving water, and how you support wildlife and pollinators.

While assessing rain water runoff practices the application considers if you have many paved surfaces, if storm grates are clear, where downspouts empty water in the event of heavy rains, if you have any rain barrels, a green roof, or a variety of native plants with deep roots. Lucky for us we have a rain barrel set up with another one on the way. We have gutter guards on all gutters, even the garage, and our drains that do not empty into rain barrels, follow a number of channels to filter into our gardens. Our sump pump also is drained away from the house under our walkway into the rose garden. Any downspouts that don't empty into a garden, empty onto small stones or mulch which gives the water the chance to slowly seep into the ground instead of just flowing over it like it would with dry dirt or paved, solid surfaces.

Have you thought about your water pollution behaviors lately? If you are using a lot of herbicides and pesticides, they flow along the top of the soil in heavy rains and they have to end up somewhere. Do you change your car oil in your driveway and then clean your driveway into the street? Are you quick to pick up cut grass clippings or do you leave them to decompose and replenish the soil's nutrients? These may be practices that just come naturally or maybe we never realized what happens after... What happens after I pick up leaves or cut grass? Where do these things go? What happens if the storm drain floods? What if organic material goes into the storm drain, doesn't it just decompose?

" We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one. " ~Jacques Yves Cousteau

Here's the clincher, do you water your grass? If you could choose between a pristine, bright green yard or larger mulched and stoned landscaping which would you choose? I know everyone loves a green yard but nothing will even grow in our yard so we have switched to a blend of oats, peas, alfalfa, buckwheat, and clover which we intend to just consistently mow down with our 3 blade human-powered lawn mower in order to strengthen the integrity of our front yard soil. Also, I happen to be allergic to 5-7 of the most common yard grass blends so those are basically out if I'd like to enjoy sitting on a blanket in the front yard barefoot with my toes in the grass. Do I water my lawn? Only if my children are giggling and running through a sprinkler that we have to borrow because we don't own one or I send my children outdoors during a good rain in their goggles and bathing suits. Okay, you got me, they run out on their own, I don't have to send them out in the rain. My children want to be marine biologists or oceanographers, our rule is "We don't waste water because it kills baby sea turtles." So, yes, we have had some bald spots, some dirt patches, some uneven grass coloration, but we are working on measures to fix that without using chemicals, extra water, or any other extreme means. First we fix the soil, then we fix the lawn. Then we take half the lawn out and extend our mulched beds and add edible food options.

Other ways to conserve water would include planting a diverse plant community with a rich variety of deep-rooted, native perennials. Along with the herbaceous legumes I mentioned above, native perennials with deep roots help to sequester carbon and water. They bring the water in and hold it deep in their roots. When the soil is stronger and has roots that travel deeper, it is more capable of holding more water and storing more carbon instead of dry dirt being exposed to oxygen. After all, CO2 is a carbon atom and an oxygen molecule they can't help it, they bond. I also recently found out about these ollas, which are historically pots made of terra cotta that are buried up to their necks in your garden. You fill them with water and cover them with the lid, and they slowly release the water in to your garden so you don't have to worry about drying out your beds over the summer or during times of extreme heat. I also found an online hack on how to make them with two pots placed mouth to mouth and then sealed with food-safe silicone caulk. Sealing around the two pots and closing the bottom drainage hole but leaving the top hole open in order to fill with more water. Personally, if i were to tweak this project, I would adhere a heavy gauge mesh or screen from the inside of the upper pot to deter mosquitos. But I am definitely going to try this in my gardens this summer. I have a pile of free terra cotta pots I scored on trash day last year. If you are interested look up "inexpensive way to make ollas for your garden out of terra cotta pots." You won't be disappointed.

Page 5: Supporting Wildlife and pollinators. I was always told, "Friends don't let friends buy annuals." I was a strict believer of this until a few years ago when I asked myself, "Who even told me this? Why have I allowed myself to believe this nonsense, I think I saw it on a Home and Garden Show..." But let's be honest here, there are some wonderful pollinators, edibles, and herbs that may not grow back year after year but they really spruce up your garden. So again, diversify your gardens and lawns. Choose native species with perennials as your forerunner but some nice native annuals sprinkled in. How else can we support wildlife and pollinators? We just talked about this at my home the other day, we have leaves that have collected on the ground—yes—do I always like how that looks? No. Do I hate ticks? Yes, but also many insects and beneficials lay eggs in leaf litter and they may not hatch until May. So we try to clear away from the house and leave the rest of the leaf litter and baby bug beds near the outskirts of our property. Hey, tick borne illnesses are no joke over here and we don't want to deal with that every season, so its about balance. We try to stay away from the leaf litter, do constant tick checks, and will probably have a little tick search and destroy session later this spring. We also leave a wood pile and are going to create some bug hotels later this month. We have a rich variety of shade, sun, moving water features, habitats, and bird feeders in the yard. The kids' favorite 'eye candy' is the specially designated pollinator garden. A wild box of borage, cosmos, sunflowers, coreopsis, echinacea, lovage, black-eyed Susan, roses, mint, marigolds, and Lauren's grape poppies.

And that is it. Five pages of questions based on the four main topics and then you upload a few images of your property or pictures of the features which highlight your good deeds. We scored a 94% on the first try. So I was happy that we didn't have to make changes and yet, I have ideas on things to do in the space to help increase our impact. Why not add a green, living roof to the clubhouse? We are going to add more rain barrels. Let's take out a little more of the front yard and add an edible garden because the front gets the best sun. We had planned on removing a cement walkway in the back as soon as we saw it, of course, five years later it is still there but— ideally, it would be a sensory walk with one "stone sized" squares of bamboo, river stone, flag stone, bricks, quartered wood, outdoor flooring from Ikea, pebbles, sand, and large chunk mulch/wood chips. All in good time.

All in good time. For now, I'm just going to proudly display my little sign in my yard and know that all steps forward—no matter what size—are still steps in the right direction. And I am going to keep spreading the news, sharing the good word, and growing roots in environmental education.

" If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. " ~Rachel Carson, American biologist, environmentalist, author

If you are interested in finding out more about this program, The Nurture Nature Center and Penn State Extension program will be hosting an informational session in about two weeks. They have more information on their Facebook page and can be found at

Get Inspired and Learn More

To find out more or see if your property already qualifies for this certification, check out the link here

The Nurture Nature Center in Easton has tons of great programs and educational initiatives. Check them out sometime in person or online to see what is on their calendar of events and how they can serve you. #watershed #EnvironmentalEducation #PennStateExtension #NurtureNatureCenter #theLittleThings #thefindingplaceLV #Learn #Grow #MasterWatershedStewards #WatershedFriendly #Nature #Nurture

Get out there, grow, love, and learn.

Thank you for joining me on this adventure. If you'd like to collaborate or chat: email me or feel free to write a comment below. All contact information is on the website on the contact page and at the bottom of each page of the website. The information in this post is my way of spreading the news of a program that I really like. All views and opinions expressed are mine. The objectives and topics I focused on are from a project that is currently taking place through the Nurture Nature Center in Easton and Penn State Extension Program. I did not create, nor am I benefiting from sharing this project, other than hopefully, sparking a sense of duty or wonder among at least one other reader. Please reach out to the Nurture Nature Center or Penn State Extension if you are looking for more ways to get involved with restoring and protecting your local watershed.


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