Monday, July 13, 2015

Common Sense Gardening: Create a healthy brown lawn this summer

A brown lawn is not exactly what we imagine for a relaxing summer oasis but with this hot, dry summer, it may be all that we can achieve!  Common sense gardeners generally consider letting lawns go dormant (turn brown and dry out) in the summer but never has that seemed more important than this summer.  With temperatures well over our average and little rainfall for months, a dormant lawn is likely this summer, whether we prefer the brown look, or not.

Worry not!  When rains return, the lawn will turn green again – until then, embrace the dormant lawn with careful watering and limited use.

Summer Care
  • Avoid mowing if possible – weeds will not stop growing so mow if needed for weed control but hand pulling weeds, especially as they go to seed is better for the lawn.  Chemical weed killers can seriously harm dormant or stressed lawns.
  • Limit foot and vehicle traffic on the lawn.
  • No need to fertilize or add lime to a dormant lawn – wait until fall to add a slow release fertilizer.
  • Water one inch of water per month to keep the lawn alive – use a rain gauge to check and record any rain on your calendar so that you are providing one inch, in total, for each drought month.

Fall Care
  • It may take 2 weeks for lawns to turn green again after the rains begin this fall. 
  • Add slow-release fertilizer after lawn has started to green up again.
  • Aerate and overseed with a drought tolerant grass seed blend grown in the Pacific Northwest for a healthy lawn that can survive whatever winter and next summer may provide!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Safe Swimming

This hot weather is great for enjoying lovely lakes and pools in Thurston County. Swimming is fun, great exercise, and is a refreshing way to cool off.  There are some hazards to be aware of when swimming.

According to, drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1-4.  Actively supervise kids in and around water with undivided attention.  Teach kids that they always need an adult with them when swimming. Older, more experienced swimmers should always swim with a buddy and be aware of swimming skill levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the main factors that influence drowning are lack of swimming ability, lack of close supervision, failure to wear life jackets, and alcohol use. For more information on preventing drowning, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Home & Recreational Safety website.

Blue-green algae
Blue-green algae can produce a toxin that can cause stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea and some people may have allergic reactions to it. Thurston County Environmental Health posts advisories online when local lakes have toxic blue-green algae. To lower your risk of exposure when blue-green algae is present, avoid contact with lake water, avoid drinking untreated surface water, keep pets and livestock out of the water, avoid boating in areas of scum, and if you choose to fish in a lake with a toxic algae bloom - catch and release is recommended. Thurston County Environmental Health has a Lake Watch volunteer program. Sign up here.

Swimmer’s Itch
Swimmer’s Itch is a skin rash that comes from parasite commonly found in aquatic animals. The tiny larvae search for a host. Humans are not natural hosts, but the larvae can remain on our skin as we leave the water. As the water evaporates or runs off, the remaining larvae burrow into the skin. Since humans are not suitable hosts, the larvae die. When this happens, the skin becomes irritated. Symptoms include tingling, burning, and itching of the skin with small reddish pimples appearing within 12 hours which may become small blisters.

The itching can last about a week, but the rash can take up to 30 days to recover. Scratching the rash can lead to a bacterial infection. To relieve some of the symptoms of Swimmer’s Itch you may use a corticosteroid cream, calamine lotion, a cool compress, bathe in Epsom salts, baking soda, or oatmeal baths, or apply a baking soda and water paste to the rash. Consult your doctor for additional information on treatment.

To prevent Swimmer’s Itch avoid swimming in areas where there is evidence of ducks and geese, do not swim or wade in marshy areas, and shower, towel off, or wipe the water off the body with the palms of your hands immediately after swimming.

Leeches are an important part of the aquatic ecosystem. They feed on worms, snails, and insect larvae and some feed on fish, reptiles, and mammals. They are food for fish, ducks, and turtles. Leeches prefer shallow, protected areas of lakes with aquatic weeds and submerged branches. Leeches can attach to humans.

If you find a leech on your skin – do not pull it off! This could leave the mouthparts of the leech still stuck in your skin and cause an infection. Instead, use salt or heat to make the leech let go of your skin. Then clean and bandage the leech bite to prevent infection. It is common for a leech bite to ooze for several hours after the leech is removed and there may be itching or an allergic reaction. Leeches in our region are not known to transmit disease to humans.

So far this summer, we have seen a lot of heat! Be safe when you're out enjoying the water and take all necessary precautions to prevent accidents and illnesses.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tips for storing, cleaning, and preparing fresh produce

Fresh produce is a treasured gift of the summer season. You may have heard of people getting sick from eating contaminated produce. It can happen when bacteria get on the produce from the soil or water while it was growing, during the time it was harvested and transported, from shopper’s hands at the store, and from your own hands when you prepare it.

Here are a few tips to reduce the risk of foodborne illness in produce.
  • Store it properly. Store perishable fruits and vegetables in a clean refrigerator at 41° F or below.
  • Keep them separated from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for produce and raw meats. Keep in mind that cutting boards, dishes, and utensils need to be washed with soap and hot water after being in contact with raw meats.
  • Wash produce under running water before eating. Whether the produce is conventionally grown, organic, or home grown it is important to wash it well and pat it dry with a clean cloth towel or a paper towel. Rubbing or scrubbing produce under running water is the recommended method for washing produce – no need for soaps or detergents.
  • Prepare produce safely. Always begin with clean hands – wash them for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparing food. Cut up washed produce on a clean surface with a clean knife. Use clean dishes and utensils for serving.
Cheers to enjoying delicious northwest fresh fruits and veggies this growing season!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Toxic Algae Advisory Posted for Lawrence Lake

This advisory is no longer in place.

A blue-green algae bloom in Lawrence Lake near Yelm has recently produced enough toxin to prompt an advisory for the lake that is now in effect. Swimming in water with algae toxins or drinking it can lead to serious illness, so people and pets are advised to stay out of the water at Lawrence Lake, and anglers are reminded that the safest bet during a toxic algae bloom is to catch and release.

Water samples taken from Lawrence Lake in the last week found the algae toxin Anatoxin-a at 191 micrograms per liter of water—well above the state standard of 1 microgram per liter for recreational water use. Signs will be posted at boat launches and public access points around the lake until tests show the algae toxin levels have dropped below the state standard.

“We’re issuing the algae advisory for Lawrence Lake because toxin levels are quite high. We want people to have this information so they can make informed decisions,” said Art Starry, Director of the county’s Environmental Health Division. “Our advice is for people and pets to stay out of the water until the algae bloom goes away, and that catch-and-release is the best bet for avoiding any algae toxins that can build up in a fish’s system.”

While not all algae blooms are toxic, some algae can produce toxins that can harm the nervous system, the liver, the skin, and the stomach and intestines. Experts from the county’s Environmental Health Division recommend a few simple tips to help prevent illness from algae:
  • Avoid swimming, wading, wind surfing and water-skiing in waters where algae blooms are present.
  • Don’t drink untreated surface water.
  • Keep pets and livestock out of waters with algae blooms.
  • When fishing, catch-and-release is the safest practice. If you do eat your catch, clean any fish you catch thoroughly. Before eating, remove the internal organs, which may contain harmful algae toxins.
  • Avoid areas of scum when boating and clean your boat thoroughly.

WHAT:    Algae Advisory for Lawrence Lake—No swimming, no pets, no fishing advised
WHEN:    Effective Immediately
WHERE: Lawrence Lake is located about 10 miles south of Yelm. Public boat launch is located at the end of Pleasant Beach Drive SE.

For updates check our Swimming in Thurston County website.

Friday, May 22, 2015

How to reduce risk of Salmonella with backyard flocks

Keeping chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys can be a lot of fun, educational for kids, and offer tasty and nutritious eggs or poultry meat. While many people enjoy the benefits of backyard birds, there is a risk of illness, especially for children. Safe handling of live poultry and of anything from where they roam is key for reducing the risk.


Salmonella is a germ that poultry and many other animals have naturally within their intestines. It usually does not make the birds sick, but it can cause serious illness in people. The Salmonella germs are in the birds’ droppings and they wind up on the birds’ bodies. The germs also spread throughout the coops, cages, feed and water dishes, on plants, on the soil, and just about anywhere the birds have access to.

People get sick from Salmonella when the germs get into their mouths. This usually happens when the germs get on hands and then people eat food or touch their faces. Young children are more likely to put their fingers and other items into their mouths and their immune systems are still developing, so their risk of illness is higher.

Salmonella can make people sick with diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. If you experience these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. In some cases, Salmonella leads to hospitalizations. The illness is likely to be more serious in children under five years old, the elderly, people with weak immune systems, and pregnant women. Salmonella is usually treated with antibiotics.

How to reduce risk of Salmonella from backyard flocks
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry. Adults should supervise hand washing of young children.
  • Wash hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes.
  • Clean poultry keeping equipment outside of the house.
  • Have a pair of boots or shoes designated for working in your live poultry area and do not wear them in the house.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where birds love or roam.
  • Try not to let children younger than five years old, the elderly, or people with weak immune systems handle live poultry. If they do, have them take extra care to wash up well.
  • Assume that wherever your flock roams is contaminated and take the necessary precautions.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.

 Enjoy our feathered friends and all of their benefits, but remember to take the proper health and safety precautions!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Water - a precious resource

Our society is becoming more and more aware that water is a precious resource. Currently, at least 24 of Washington’s river basins are in a declared drought emergency. For the most updated drought information for Washington, visit “Washington Drought 2015.” Thurston County is not in a declared drought emergency. However, conserving water can help protect this precious resource, human health, and the environment. 

There are many choices we can make to conserve water. Here are some tips from

Conserve water in the kitchen.
  • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap until it is cold. This way, every drop is a drink instead of going down the drain.
  • Cook food in as little water as possible. This also helps your food retain more nutrients.
  • When washing dishes by hand, make an effort to reduce the amount of time you run the faucet. Soak dishes and scrub them clean before running water to rinse them off.
  • When shopping for a new dishwasher or any new appliance, look for energy efficient models and compare water usage.

Conserve water in the bathroom.
  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth to save up to four gallons a minute.
  • Try to keep showers to five minutes.
  • Turn off the water while washing your hair and save up to 150 gallons a month!
  • Test your toilet for leaks at least once a year. Test for leaks with dye tablets. These may be available through your local water provider.
  • Place tissues in the trash instead of flushing them down the toilet.
  • If your shower fills a one-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, replace the showerhead with a WaterSense® labeled showerhead.
  • One drip every second adds up to five gallons per day. Check faucets and showerheads for leaks.

Conserve water in the yard.
  • Mow grass to two inches and leave clippings on the lawn. This helps the soil hold moisture.
  • Use an empty tuna can to measure how much water your sprinkler puts out. ¾-1 inch of water is enough to water your lawn.
  • When installing a lawn or re-seeding, use a grass seed mixed for the Pacific Northwest.
  • Plant native plants. Once they are established, they need less water than non-native plants. Use our Plant List to find plants that have low water use.
  • Make sure your sprinkler or watering system is set up to water plants and not sidewalks or driveways.
  • Apply mulch around plants to help hold moisture. You can mulch with bark, woodchips, straw, or leaves.

Keep in mind that water goes into making many of the everyday items we use and the food we eat. You can help conserve water by being a smart consumer, saving energy, and doing your best to reduce, re-use, and recycle. There are many ways we can conserve water. What do you do to conserve water?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Garage Sales: The Morning After

Garage Sale Season is here! Many of us enjoy treasure hunting among the local garage sales and holding a garage sale is a great way to downsize, unclutter your life, make some money, and put your old items to use.

…but then what?

No matter how good you are, you won’t be able to sell everything. But, don’t worry, we’re here to help! Use the following list of organizations and resources to find the perfect way to sell, donate, recycle, or dispose of your leftover garage sale items:

  • Goodwill: Donate clothing, media, house ware, and furniture. Some Goodwill stores will even offer donation pick up services.
  • Value Village: Donate clothing, media, house wares, and furniture.
  • 2good2toss: Advertise to sell or give away items within the county for free.
  • Craigslist: Advertise to sell, trade, or giveaway items for free.
  • Freecycle: Advertise free items within local groups.
  • KAOS Community Billboard: Free radio advertising to the local community about items that you wish to sell, buy, giveaway, or trade.
  • Other: Call around to local non-profits, churches, theater groups and other organizations to see if any of your goods might be needed.


  • Thurston County’s HazoHouse: Free disposal & recycling of hazardous waste (anything with “danger, caution, warning, flammable, corrosive, toxic, persistent, or reactive” on its label) from homeowners, including:  fluorescent lights, solvents, oil-based paints, glues, pesticides, propane tanks, batteries, cleaning supplies, pool and hobby supplies, and products that contain mercury.
  • E-Cycle: Free recycling of televisions, computers, monitors, laptops, tablets, e-readers, and portable DVD players. Accepted at: Dimension Computers, Goodwill stores and donation centers, Midway Recovery Inc., Thurston County Waste and Recover Center, Value Village, 4th Dimension Computers.
  • Keyboards, printers, toner cartridges and cell phones: Free recycling at Best Buy, RadioShack (cell phones only), and Staples.
  • Light Recycle Washington: Free recycling of fluorescent lights, CFLs, and HIDs. Accepted at: Ace Hardware (Olympia and Lincoln Creek Lumber), Batteries Plus Bulbs, and Thurston County’s HazoHouse.

    • Recycle (for free) plastic  jugs and bottles, aluminum and tin cans, glass bottles and jars, #6 foam, corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, and cooking and motor oil. Also, drop-off items for E-Cycle, Habitat for Humanity, and Goodwill (see details above).
    • Dispose of (for a fee) yard and food waste, construction and demolition debris, and general garbage.

    • Recycle (for free) plastic  jugs and bottles, aluminum and tin cans, glass bottles and jars, #6 foam, corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, and cooking and motor oil. Also, drop-off items for E-Cycle, Habitat for Humanity, and Goodwill (see details above).
    • Dispose of (for a fee) non-refrigerated appliances, furniture, tires, and construction and demolition debris.

  • 1-800 Recycle: Washington State Department of Ecology’s database of recycling opportunities in Washington State, the hotline is available Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m.- 1:00p.m.
  • Where do I Take My: Thurston County’s searchable database for unwanted goods disposal.
  • Thurston County’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Hotline: 360-867-2664 Call during regular business hours with questions or concerns.