Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More Signs of Spring!

Despite the freak cold snap we're currently suffering through (the heat's broken in the office, and someone forgot to call facilities to repair it), signs of spring are everywhere.

There are the luscious strawberries.

The gorgeous redbuds.

And, hey, my coral honeysuckle is blooming!

And it's starting to cover my compost!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

They Call It "Influent" (I Call It a River of Poo)

Yesterday I saw a lot of poo.

I'm a member of a working group that looks at issues around the Lower Santa Fe River (which is actually where I went canoeing last week), and the head of the working group often arranges for us to take cool field trips to look at springs, sinkholes, and other water-related things.

This time we went to the City of High Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant. High Springs is a historic town about twenty miles north-ish of Gainesville, and it's right up on the Santa Fe River. It has never had a wastewater treatment plant until now. If you know anything about Florida's geography, you can probably guess the sinister implications of this: people's poo was just going straight into the river, basically.

Now, don't get me wrong. People had septic tanks. But the city manager told us that in 1895, say, a person would build a house and put a septic tank below the empty lot next door. Later, that empty lot would be built on. And people didn't know where their sewage was going.

They assumed, like all of us tend to, that when their toilets flushed their poo went far, far away. In reality, it was going below their neighbor's house -- and then sometimes coming up into their neighbor's house. Or entering the septic tank, and then leaving it through leaks. And then entering the river. Where tons of animals and plants live, and where hundreds of thousands of people swim, canoe, and tube every year. Or, somewhat more sinisterly, entering the aquifer, which is where our drinking water gets pumped from.

And they know this because when they got houses on the new sewer system and went to pump out their septic tanks and fill them with concrete? A lot of them were completely empty.


Some people in High Springs have wanted a wastewater treatment plant since 1957, but they had to wait until 2004.

Here's the gigantor tank where all the poo comes in and is sorted, so to speak.

If I understood correctly, these are poo-chopping machines. Somehow they chop up the poo so it can fit through pipes.

This is what you see as you walk up the stairs to the poo tank.

It looked just like the river of chocolate in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Remember? The one that that one kid fell in, because he was so greedy? "Scrumdidilyumptious."

Some parts looked more like a river than others. Other parts looked like a lot of frothy poo. There was a reason for this ... something about the solids and the treating of the water, but ... yeah, I don't really remember what was said. I was too busy staring at the poo churning three feet below me. Thousands and thousands of gallons of churning, flowing poo.

It smelled a lot less than you would guess (although I still gagged a couple of times). Apparently the poo is "air-pumped," meaning air is pumped into the bottom, to keep the "solids" from just settling there permanently and to introduce bacteria that help break the poo down.

I was having bad anxiety that I was going to fall in, or drop my camera or sunglasses into the river of poo. We were on these narrow catwalks looking down into the poo. It was pretty stressful after a minute or two. That much poo is absolutely overwhelming. And it's only the poo of around 1,200 people! Imagine New York's poo river. Once you start thinking like that, it's hard to stop.

I have to insert some unsolicited advice here: if you ever get the chance to talk to a wastewater treatment employee, ask them what kinds of stuff they've found in the "influent." The range of disgusting and bizarre (and large!) 0bjects will surprise you -- and the employee might have some opinions that have not occurred to you, like "Plastic tampon applicators should be banned!"

Winter Vegetables

Another runt-filled season in my veggie garden. I keep waiting for things to get bigger, but they just refuse.

One of these days I am going to get some more media, toss this old media that I don't think is draining well, and plant some new seeds. Maybe this weekend!

Here's my runt lettuce.

Runt kale.

Runt radishes.

Runt corn that preferred my compost pile.

It's the end of the season, so I guess I should just have a runt harvest and be done with it.

Yard Update

I've been neglecting my gardening lately. But the landscape carries on without me.

The rain lily I photographed last week died, but a new one sprouted right next to it.

This is the time of year for spiderwort, another "weed" that I like.

And it's everywhere! Dotting the yard and thriving at the edge of the vacant wooded lot behind my backyard.

The camellia bush lost all its blooms in the past few weeks.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A River Runs Through It

I've been absent because I've been busy, but not with all things sustainable.

But Wednesday I took the day off work and went kayaking with my friend Rayne and her friend Caimee, who was visiting from North Carolina. We went down the Santa Fe River. It was BEAUTIFUL!! It was cool and perfectly sunny, with a little breeze that was a wee bit chilly.

We saw:
--tons of turtles (of course)
--two red-shouldered hawks
--great blue herons
--little blue herons
--pileated woodpeckers
--white egrets
--a million vultures (creepy)
--one naked man

We even heard a few barred owls (around 4 o'clock)! I didn't see any algae, water lettuce, or water hyacinth to speak of, which is good. We saw two -- two!! -- canoes the entire time, two boats, and no swimmers -- just scuba divers in Ginnie Springs. The river was basically ours, for twelve entire miles!

I should explain the naked man.

There's a spring, called Lily Spring, that's privately owned. It's on a little side jaunt off the Santa Fe. You can see the kayaks we rented.

A nudist named Ed lives there.

He takes care of the property and hangs out with canoeists and kayakers. He's a nice guy.

Another person we met was Verniss (sp?), this very opinionated guy who runs Ichetucknee Canoe and Cabins. He cares a lot about the river.

They 'like' quotation marks "a lot" "there."

It was a perfect day. I'll post more photos as soon as Caimee e-mails me hers.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lake Alice

I finally got a photo of Lake Alice. Purdy, ain't it?

Sorry for the lame non-gardening posts. I might try to plant my spring veggie seeds this weekend. We'll see.


It's been raining a lot lately, which is good for the plants and aquifer. The other day I was startled by the appearance of a bright-white beautiful flower in an otherwise boring lawn. Kim says it's a rain lily, Zephyranthes atamasca. I like it.

Publish Post

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Desultory Update

I finally fertilized my plants.

Otherwise I have been slacking.

Here are my winter annuals. It's starting to warm up, so I don't know how much longer they're going to last. They keep getting bigger and adding blooms. I'll be sad to see them go.

Some days after work I drive through campus to go to the gym, and when I do, I pass Lake Alice. It's always beautiful around that time of day, and I always mean to take a picture. But even going only 20 mph, it's hard to get the camera out and on and photographing within, like, 30 seconds. The thing is slow. The other day I tried to get a picture, but just missed the lake. Maybe one of these days I will just pull over and get out of my car. Revolutionary.