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The Wade garden in Arroyo Grande: Taking steps toward sustainability

The view overlooking Arroyo Grande Valley looks out through a bright, beautiful bougainvillea, which thrives in the South County climate.
The view overlooking Arroyo Grande Valley looks out through a bright, beautiful bougainvillea, which thrives in the South County climate. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Self-sufficiency was Jeff and Nell Wade’s goal for their three-acre rural property on a hillside in east Arroyo Grande.

Jeff Wade grew up in inner-city Chicago, and Nell was raised in Orange County. Together, they have embraced the rural life and adapted to it by their willingness to experiment and try new solutions for minimal water and utility use.

Knowing that water is in short supply, they invested in five large rainwater storage tanks that together store 11,500 gallons of water. Two smaller tanks collect runoff from a work shed, while gutters from the house and the solar patio fill three larger tanks. “Even though last year’s rainfall was low, the tanks filled to capacity,” says Jeff Wade.

The Wades have the advantage that their orchard and vegetable gardens are located down the hill from the house, allowing gravity to do the pumping for them. Even though they share a well with two other homes, they liked the idea of using the clarified rainwater for their yard and chickens and saving the well water for indoor use.

But collected rainwater is not their only step toward sustainability.

When they remodeled the house four years ago, they hired Green Goods Inc. of San Luis Obispo to install a graywater system to their washing machine for outdoor irrigation. Most of their laundry is dried by “solar power,” otherwise known as a “clothesline.” Since they heat their home by wood, “Green Goods” suggested cork flooring, which is warmer to the feet than tile or wood.

The Wades got creative when they added a multi-use patio cover made from solar panels that collect energy from both sides. Designed by PHAT Energy, the panels not only supply about 2.25 kilowatts toward their low electricity needs, but they also shade the patio and add to the rainwater storage by downspouts connected to the tanks.

Facing southwest, with sun all day, the well-watered garden produces year-round for the Wades. Their vermiculture (worm) compost feeds summer crops of tomatoes, peppers, carrots, kale, onions, celery, herbs and kohlrabi. The winter months bring peas, more carrots, lettuce, spinach, and beets.

The Wades are training and trimming a row of mixed dwarf citrus trees as a hedge along the top of the garden. Included in this group are Key limes, page mandarins, blood oranges and Santa Teresa lemons.

Of course, gardening in a rural setting means plenty of predators that would like their share of the crops and blooms. Deer and gophers are the most persistent culprits, necessitating eight-foot deer fences, constant trapping and raised beds. And it’s an annual race against the birds to collect the apples, cherries and plums from their orchard.

“The birds eat everything. The chickens eat the fuchsias, and the coyotes take the chickens, and that’s just life in the country,” Nell Wade says, smiling.

For her ornamental flowers and specimen plants, Nell Wade has found that planting in pots near the house or on the deck is one way to ensure survival. The fenced vegetable garden area is a safe spot for sun-loving perennials such as hibiscus and nicotiana. Herbs flourish in hanging ‘wooly baskets’ on the entryway wall, while a colorful collection in an aluminum feed trough near the back door have been untouched by the deer.

The Wades consider their country experiment in self-sufficiency a success, with very low electricity and propane bills, a constant supply of fresh eggs, organic produce and fruit and the ever-challenging projects that keep them outdoors as they go up and down the steps to their vegetable gardens.

“What we appreciate the most about our rural life is the quiet, watching the fog roll in and out of the valley below us, and the sound of the wind in the trees,” says Jeff Wade.

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