# Can I Water Vegetables with my Rain Barrel Water?

By Joan Allen

Collection of rain water from roofs using rain barrels is growing in popularity because of its many environmental and practical benefits. It can help the environment by diverting water that might contain contaminants away from storm drains and the natural bodies of water that those empty into.  Depletion of well water can be a benefit when this non-potable water is used instead of the tap for things like washing cars, irrigation of plants, and flushing toilets. If you’re on a city/public water system, it can save money to use rain water where you can, too. But is using rain water to irrigate vegetables and fruits safe? Are there contaminants in it that could make people sick? Let’s take a look at what’s been studied.

A few universities in the U.S and abroad have done some work to look at potential contaminants in roof run-off water including heavy metals like zinc, copper, lead and others as well as bacteria such as E. coli and other pathogens. Testing done so far has shown low risk from these, but there is some. And of course, it depends on the type of roofing material, the environment (ie acid rain, urban vs. rural, etc) and possibly other factors. In one study, most of the metals tested the same in rain barrel water as in rain water before it hit the roofs, so little to no concern there. One exception was zinc, and elevated levels could lead to build up of this element in soils. At high enough levels, this can cause injury to plants and those plants should not be consumed (1). Monitor for this by having the soil tested.

While risk appears to be low, there were a few samples in studies (1, 2) where E. coli or total coliform bacterial levels exceeded official standards for some uses. Rain barrel water should NEVER be used for potable purposes such as drinking water, cooking or washing. Where do the bacteria in run-off come from? The main sources would be fecal matter from animals such as squirrels and birds that land and move around on the roof.

But if you’d like to water your vegetable garden with rain barrel water, are there ways to do it safely?

Dr. Mike Dietz, Assistant Extension Educator at UConn with expertise in water management recommends “not using roof water on anything leafy that you are going to eat directly. It would be OK to water soil/plants where there is no direct contact”. This is consistent with recommendations from other experts who suggest applying the water directly to the soil and avoiding contact with above-ground plant parts. An ideal set-up would be to hook up a drip irrigation system to your rain barrel(s). Pressure will be improved when they are full and if they are elevated. A full rain barrel can be pretty heavy, at about 500 lbs. for a 55 gallon unit, so make sure they are on a solid and stable base such as concrete blocks.

If possible, and this is done in larger collection systems automatically, don’t collect the ‘first flush’ of water off the roof. This would be the first few gallons. In a ¼” rainfall as much as 150 gallons can be collected from a 1000 ft2 roof surface (3). The first water to run off tends to have higher concentrations of any contaminants because of them building up on the roof since the previous rainfall event.

Another more practical way to minimize risk of pathogen/bacterial contamination is to treat the collected water with bleach. Rutgers University recommends treating 55 gallons of water by adding one ounce of unscented household chlorine bleach to the barrel once a month (or more often if rain is frequent). Allow this to stand for 24 hours before using the water for irrigation so the bleach can dissipate.

Apply collected water in the morning. Wait until leaves dry in the sun before harvesting. Ultraviolet light from the sun will have some disinfecting effect.

It is recommended to have the rain barrel water tested for E. coli. Be sure to follow the testing lab’s instructions for collection, storage and time sensitivity of the samples.

Thoroughly wash all harvested produce. In addition, you should always thoroughly wash your hands with warm, soapy water after they are in contact with collected water.

In summary, there are risks to using collected rain water for irrigation of food crops. In most cases, the risk appears to be low, and using the above sanitation practices can reduce risk.

References:

1. DeBusk, K., W. Hunt, D. Osmond and G. Cope. 2009. Water quality of rooftop runoff: implications for residential water harvesting systems. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
2. Bakacs, M., M. Haberland and S. Yergeau. 2017. Rain barrels part IV: testing and applying harvested water to irrigate a vegetable garden. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Fact Sheet FS1218.
3. Rainfall as a resource. A resident’s guide to rain barrels in Connecticut. CT DEEP.

# Extension Offers Greenhouse Biological Control Conference

UConn Extension is sponsoring a Greenhouse Biological Control Conference.  This one-day educational program will be held onWednesday, June 20, 2018 at Room 100, WB Young Building, University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT.

The speakers featured at this educational program include:

• Michael Oleykowski,  Syngenta  who will be speaking on Developing an Effective, Integrated Control Program
• Debbie Palumbo-Sanders, Bioworks, Victor, NY   who will be speaking on Biofungicides and Their Fit into Your IPM Program
• Kerri Stafford, Cavicchio Greenhouses, Sudbury, MA  who will be speaking on Implementing Our Biological Control Program
• Annie White, Nectar Landscape Design Studio, Burlington, VT  who will be speaking on Top Plants for Attracting Pollinators: Natives and Beyond
• Carol Glenister, IPM Laboratories, Locke, NY  who will be speaking on Plants Talk Biocontrol: How to Use Plants to Manage Pests

A registration fee of $40 is due by June 14 payable by check only to the University of Connecticut. Included in the cost of admission: coffee, continental breakfast, lunch, informational handouts and parking. Five pesticide recertification credits will be offered. For more information contact: Leanne Pundt at leanne.pundt@uconn.edu or call 860.626.6855 or click here for the program brochure or visit the website: http://ipm.uconn.edu/pa_greenhouse/ This work is supported by the Crop Protection and Pest Management grant no. 2014-70006-22548/project accession no. 1004700 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. # Spring Garden Chores By Carol Quish Originally Published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center Some garden perennials were not so lucky this winter. If it appears the voles and chipmunks have been busy feeding and tunneling their way through parts of the garden, you will see heaved up tunnels in the lawn from moles. Fill in any tunnels. Mouse traps sent in the runs might work as a control measure. Cover the trap with an up-side-down bucket to keep out birds and cats. There is still time to remove, crush and kill gypsy moth eggs from tree bark. Hope for a wet spring to develop the fungus that infects the young caterpillars after they hatch from any egg masses that were left. While cleaning up garden debris, watch for beneficial insect overwintered eggs like the praying mantid’s egg case below. Carefully remove the stem and egg mass to a safe place outside so it can hatch naturally when the weather warms. Do NOT bring it into your home unless you want it to hatch inside your heated house! Another spring chore can be done inside the home. Cut the top six inches off of leggy houseplants to give them a good pruning. Repot any that need it to get them ready for another year of growing. Stick some cuttings in a vase of water to get them to produce roots. Some plants do respond better than others and it is worth a try to produce new, free houseplants to share with friends. # Lettuce Learn a Bit About E. Coli By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety Recent news reports regarding the romaine lettuce outbreak have, yet again, raised concern about pathogens in our food supply. In particular, leafy greens continue to show up as a source for outbreaks. Two outbreaks since late fall have implicated romaine and/or leafy greens. In both outbreaks, E. coli O157:H7 was the culprit. What exactly is E. coli? Escherichia colior E. coliis a group of bacteria, some of which are harmless, and some of which are pathogenic, or disease causing. These bacteria are ubiquitous in the environment: they can survive in water, soil, on plants, and in the intestinal tracts of people and animals. Some types of E. colicause diarrhea, some cause urinary tract infections, and other may cause pneumonia or other diseases. If you have a well, you are likely familiar with the term “generic E. coli.” Generic E. coli(sometimes referred to as Biotype I), is found in the intestinal tracts of animals. Therefore, the public health and regulatory community use the presence of generic E. coliis an indicator that some type of fecal contamination (poop) is present. A test for generic E. colican determine if well water is drinkable, if food processing environments are clean, if meat is potentially contaminated with fecal matter or if irrigation water is safe to use on crops. Generic E. coli, because it is found in fecal matter, may also indicate the potential for the presence of other pathogens that can be found in feces: bacteria such as Salmonellaand pathogenic types of E. coli; viruses such as hepatitis A or norovirus; and parasitic protozoa including Cryptosporidium parvum. All of these microorganisms have been associated with foodborne disease outbreaks. While there are a number of pathogenic strains, it is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli(STEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli(EHEC) that is identified most often as a cause of foodborne illness. O157:H7 is one of several STEC strains. Hamburger, spinach, lettuce, sprouts, unpasteurized or “raw” milk and cheeses, unpasteurized fruit juice including cider, and flour have all been identified as food sources in O157:H7 outbreaks. This can be an awful disease. This type of E. coliproduces a Shiga toxin, which can be associated with more severe disease, including bloody diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. The experience of an STEC infection can be different for each person. Contributing factors might include the age of the patient (very young or older people may have more severe infections due to compromised or undeveloped immune systems) and the general health of the person (again, if the immune system is already compromised, the disease may be more severe). However, a healthy adult can also experience more severe disease. Often, the symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Again, the CDC states, “If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101˚F/less than 38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.” Life threatening complications can occur when the Shiga toxin latches onto specific organs, such as the kidney. HUS can result in short term kidney failure or may result in long term disability, or even death. How does E. coli get into our food? We have been aware of the risk of E. coliin animal products for years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “STEC live in the guts of ruminant animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and elk. The major source for human illnesses is cattle. STEC that cause human illness generally do not make animals sick. Other kinds of animals, including pigs and birds, sometimes pick up STEC from the environment and may spread it.” It was likely the Jack in the Box hamburger related outbreak in 1993 that increased the awareness of both the public and the public health community of the relationship. After that outbreak, Rhode Island passed a law that does not allow restaurants to serve undercooked hamburgers to kids under 12 – a population that is at risk for the worst consequences of an E. coliinfection. At the same time, the recommended safe end-cooking temperature of hamburger was increased to 160 degrees F and sweeping regulation was passed that required meat and poultry processors, to develop food safety plans and be part of a food safety regulation program that included testing for generic E. coli,as well as pathogenic strains of the bacteria. That makes sense to consumers. After all, if these pathogens are found in the intestinal tracts of animals and in fecal matter, then animal foods are most likely at risk for contamination. So, how are fruits and vegetables contaminated with E. coli? As stated earlier, E. colican live in ruminants, including deer. Other wildlife may carry the bacteria after picking it up from the environment—the soil, dead animals, or contaminated water. The great outdoors is also the great toilet for these animals. Their feces end up in the soil and water or on the feed of birds or insects. Fruits and vegetables are grown in this soil. There is some risk of contamination as a result. Birds poop on tomatoes, apples fall on deer poop, etc. Newer regulation target produce growers in an effort to reduce the risk for foodborne illness from fresh fruits and veggies. The Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule includes requirements to test irrigation water, keep records of sanitation practices in the packing house, and employee training concerning personal hygiene and safe handling of produce. Leafy greens continue to be associated with more outbreaks than other types of vegetables, with the exception of fresh sprouts. First, we eat them raw. There is no kill step to destroy pathogens. Second, they are leafy and grow close to the soil. If contaminated, those leaves can harbor and protect the bacteria. If lettuces are cut and then washed, the contamination can spread to greens that have not been contaminated, making the problem bigger. Once cut or chopped, the greens have even more open surface area that may allow the bacteria to internalize. Like meat and poultry, any food product that is grown in the field will never be 100% risk free. The industry is hard at work doing what they can to reduce your risk. So what should a consumer do? First, do not stop eating greens, tomatoes, or other fresh fruits and vegetables. The benefits of a diet high in fresh produce far outweigh the risk of contracting a foodborne disease from them. Learn how to choose, store, prepare and handle them safely. Purchase your produce from a farmer that has instituted good agricultural practices and good produce handling practices. If you buy from a local farmer at the farm or at a farmers’ market, ask the farmer if they have attended a food safety course or if they have a food safety program on their farm. When buying fresh produce, avoid those that are bruised or cut if you are going to eat them raw. Openings in the skin or bruises may increase the ability of bacteria or other microorganisms to reach the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. Refrigerate produce that should be refrigerated (leafy greens, scallions, broccoli, cucumbers) to minimize growth of microorganisms. In addition, refrigerate all cut produce. Other food safety tips: • Wash all produce prior to eating. • Use clean knives, cutting boards, hands and other utensils when preparing raw lettuce for a salad or cutting a melon for breakfast. • Don’t cross contaminate ready-to-eat fresh produce with raw meat or poultry. I always prepare the salad first, then the meat for my meal. • Store raw, ready-to-eat produce to protect it from raw meat, poultry or fish. • Place the meat on a plate if it must be stored above the veggies. (I can never understand why produce drawers are under all other shelves in the fridge, making it a bit easier for meat juices to drip down onto the fresh produce.) Some folks may want to consider purchasing heads of lettuce rather than chopped greens, though even whole heads of romaine were implicated in the most recent outbreak. If you do purchase pre-cut greens, make sure they are of good quality without a lot of browning or slimy leaves in the bag. If they are washed it is best not to rewash as you risk contamination during the process. However, if there are beginning signs of wilting or mushy leaves, I would wash, dry and store the remaining greens in the refrigerator, wrapped in a clean paper towel. Continue to enjoy salads, fresh fruit and other veggies on a daily basis. It is an important part of a healthy diet. Just be sure to pay attention good safe food handling practices as you prepare to enjoy your meal. For more information about food safety, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, check out some of the links in the article, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271. # Seedling Sales! Spring has sprung, and it’s time to get seedlings in the ground! If you are looking for locally grown seedlings for your garden, the following community based organizations are hosting seedling sales to support their work. See below for the listing of organizations in Connecticut who will be hosting sales: New Britain ROOTS: Thu, May 10th: Pulaski Middle School, 3pm-4:30pm 757 Farmington Ave, New Britain, CT 06053 Friday, May 11th & Friday May 18th: Gaffney Elementary, 3:30pm-5pm 322 Slater Rd, New Britain, CT 06053 Friday, May 25th: New Britain High School, 2:30pm-4pm 110 Mill St, New Britain, CT 06051 Common Ground: Saturday May 12th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm 358 Springside Ave New Haven, CT 06515 Fresh New London: Saturday May 19th, 2018, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm 120 Broad St., New London, Connecticut 06320 New Haven County Extension Council Thursday, May 10th, 2018, 2 pm – 6 pm Saturday, May 12th, 2018, 10 am – 1 pm 305 Skiff Street, North Haven, Connecticut Check out our two projects run out of UConn Extension that specifically promote local sourcing, both in the Connecticut community and in Connecticut Schools: Put Local On Your Tray and Heart CT Grown. Local sourcing includes local gardening supplies, both for school gardens or for home! # Another Win for Rain Gardens By Amanda Ryan Originally published by the Center for Land Use Education and Research It’s well known that rain gardens are great for infiltrating stormwater but people may not realize that they also help destroy common stormwater pollutants. Several studies have found that rather than accumulating pollutants in their soils, rain gardens tend to biodegrade them instead. One study (LeFevre et al., 2011) investigated petroleum hydrocarbon levels in 58 rain gardens in Minneapolis, MN representing a wide range of sizes, vegetation types, and contributing area land uses. The researchers found that petroleum hydrocarbon levels were well below regulatory limits in all the rain gardens sampled. And a tip for future rain garden installers, rain gardens planted with more robust vegetation with deeper roots did a better job at breaking down pollutants than those planted with only turf grass. A rain garden’s ability to biodegrade pollutants is in contrast to what happens in more conventional stormwater management structures like retention ponds. Retention ponds are often installed with larger developments to receive a large volume of stormwater from impervious areas (ex. houses and roads in a subdivision, roof and parking lot of a Home Depot). Other studies (Van Metre et al., 2009; Van Metre et al., 2000; Kamalakkannan et al., 2004), found that pollutants like PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), a type of petroleum hydrocarbon, accumulate in the sediments of stormwater retention ponds. This creates a very expensive maintenance issue for retention pond owners when the time comes to remove and dispose of built up contaminated sediments. Side note – stormwater can pick up PAHs from dust on pavements treated with coal tar sealants which are commonly used on parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds (but they have recently been banned from use on State and local highways in CT). If by now you’re energized to install one or many rain gardens on your property, check out NEMO’s rain garden site and Rain Garden App! # Black Knot of Plum & Cherry: Prune Now! By Joan Allen Originally published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center Black knot of plum and cherry, caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, may be overlooked during the growing season when the leaves are hiding the galls, but this time of year they are hard to miss, especially when they are as abundant as they are on the tree in the photo below. This is a serious disease of these trees and can eventually kill susceptible varieties. Management options include sanitation, resistant varieties and properly timed fungicides. Where manageable, prune out all galls during the dormant season and dispose of them off-site, burn or bury them. This is because even removed galls may still produce spores that can cause new infections. Prune 6″ below the visible edge of the gall because the fungus can be invading the wood in that area prior to gall development. This disease can affect both orchard and ornamental varieties of plum and cherry but some of the tart cherries are less susceptible. Native wild cherries are hosts of the disease and provide a reservoir of inoculum for orchards and ornamentals. It’s helpful to remove those nearby where possible. For new plum plantings (fruiting/orchard), ‘President’ is highly resistant. Moderately resistant options include ‘Methley’, ‘Milton’, ‘Early Italian’, ‘Brodshaw’, ‘Fellenberg’, ‘Shiro’, ‘Santa Rosa’ and ‘Formosa’. ‘Shropshire’ and ‘Stanley’ are considered quite susceptible. Here’s how disease develops: Infections occur in the spring on new growth from spores produced on the surface of 2+ year old galls. Spores are produced and spread during rainy weather and shoots must remain wet for a period of time for the spores to germinate and initiate an infection. Infections can occur at temperatures of 50°F or higher when water is present for the required period of time. Over the course of the first summer, a small greenish brown swelling develops. By the end of the second summer, the gall or knot becomes hard, rough and black. These galls begin producing spores the following spring. Galls expand in size each year until the branch is girdled (killed all the way around) and then they die. Once a twig or shoot is girdled, the portion beyond the gall can’t get any water or nutrients and dies as a result. Sometimes, larger branches and trunks can become infected, presumably through wounds. What if you have a susceptible tree and want to prevent this disease? If you know you have a source of infection (hosts with galls nearby, either wild or on a neighboring property) and you’ve had some infections, keep up with the monitoring and pruning, fertilize and water as necessary to prevent stress, and use preventive fungicides, such as lime sulfur during dormancy (organic option) or chlorothalonil or others labeled for this disease. Other than lime sulfur, applications should be made as directed on the label beginning at bud swell and until new terminal growth ceases. # What Do You Do After You Scoop? By David Dickson Originally published by the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research On my drive home last week I saw two of my neighbors walking their dogs. One of the dogs had just done his business and the owner dutifully scooped it up with a doggy doodie bag dangling from the dog’s leash. Excellent, I thought, he knows that dog poop left on the street can be carried by stormwater into our storm drain and then pollute our waterways with bacteria. As a water quality educator, I was pleased to see the “scoop the poop” message was getting out. However, my neighbor then proceeded to drop the doodie bag directly into the storm drain! So, there is still work to do. Once you scoop it, you need dispose of it properly – either in the garbage or flushed down the toilet (minus the plastic bag). Not carry it directly to the storm drain. This has gotten me to think more about how we educate the public about the impacts of common everyday activities on our lakes, streams and rivers. Under our new state stormwater management regulations (a.k.a, the MS4 permit) towns are required to educate their citizens on the impacts things like pet waste and fertilizer have on our waters when transported to our storm drain system. However, if towns are going to invest/spend their limited time and resources on public outreach, it makes sense that they ensure they are as effective as possible at conveying the whole message, while also keeping it simple. CLEAR’s NEMO program is helping communities to identify ways to get these messages out. Our online MS4 Guide has examples of public outreach materials towns can use, but there are other resources as well. URI’s Stormwater Solutions program has some great public outreach materials on scooping and trashing pet waste, including cartoons like the one above. The EPA has a nice stormwater outreach”toolbox” with examples from around the country searchable by topic or media type. Still, many of these focusing on the scooping, which at least in my neighborhood (and I’m guessing in yours) is only half the battle. So choose carefully. Maybe someone will come up with a cute phrase that tells people what to do AFTER they scoop. “Scoop the poop and then place it in the proper receptacle” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. # Master Your Garden With Our Spring Courses Upcoming Classes: Ethnobotany – April 28th in Torrington Growing Trends at the Garden Barn – May 2nd in Vernon Boot Camp for Your Senses – May 3rd at Edgerton Park Carriage House Digital Garden Photography Basics – May 6th at Auerfarm in Bloomfield Pruning Trees and Shrubs – May 22nd in Bethel Forest Pests: Emerald Ash Borer and More – May 25th in Vernon Online registration for all classes is available at http://s.uconn.edu/47o Garden Master Classes are offered through the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. For Certified Master Gardeners they provide continuing education as part of the Advanced Master Gardener certification process. These classes are also open to the general public. Anyone with an interest in gardening and horticulture is welcome! # Statewide Multi-Use Trail Data Available ## Data Collection Program Releases 2017 Data Shedding Light on Statewide Multi-use Trail Use The Connecticut Trail Census (CTTC), a program tracking use on multi-use trails statewide, has released publically available data for the 2017 calendar year on their website http://www.cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/. The CTTC collects data regarding trail use patterns including who is using these trails, when people are using them, how, and why at multi-use trails across Connecticut. The Census currently includes 15 trail locations on 11 multi-use trails. Trail use is tracked with infrared counters and by trail user intercept surveys deployed by volunteers. In 2017, the program recorded 1.4 million trips taken on trail segments where counts are being conducted, and analyzed 1,003 trail user surveys collected by over 63 volunteers from trail advocacy groups around the state. The trails with the highest volumes were the Naugatuck River Greenway in Derby (303,550 uses), the Still River Greenway in Brookfield (197,945 uses) and the Hop River Trail in Vernon (133,016 uses). “We hope this data will be used by communities and trail advocacy groups, researchers, and funding organizations to show the impacts of multi-use trails on public health, transportation systems, and local communities,” said Kristina Kelly, the Statewide Coordinator of the Census. The program is funded by a 2016 Recreational Trails Grant received from the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and is overseen by the Connecticut Greenways Council. It is being undertaken in a partnership between UConn Extension, The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, and the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Outreach (CLEAR). The infrared counters record hourly totals of trail use year-round, and show use patterns seasonally, by time of day, and day of week. The heaviest use occurred between the months of April and October when approximately 76% of trail uses across all sites were recorded. Because all trails involved in the program are of similar typology (multi-use, two-directional, and either paved or stone dust), the trail use data can be utilized to explore variables that may affect trail use. For example, trails that offer connection between towns and cities such as the New Britain Fastrak and the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, seem to show less difference in the number of users between weekday and weekend. The counters are installed semi-permanently, which also will allow trails to measure the effects of future trail improvements. The 2017 intercept survey data showed trail users who completed the survey tended to be older than the general population of Connecticut with 63% of trail users being over the age of 45 versus only 44% of the general population. While the majority of users got to the trail by car or motorcycle alone (49%), an encouraging 31% traveled in a car with someone else. Demonstrating the potential economic value of trails, 61.5% of all respondents reported spending$277 annually related to their trail use.

The 2018 Trail Census Program will launch the second week of May at trail sites across the state. Trails with an interest in participating should contact the Census Coordinator Kristina Kelly at cttrailcensus@gmail.com. Existing data including infrared counter and survey data reports, and recording of a recent webinar with in-depth discussion of the available data are on the Connecticut Trail Census website at http://www.cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/. All data collected is free and available to explore and download.