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Going Green on Whidbey Island

Red Tide on Whidbey Island

June 26th, 2015 at 10:45 am by maribeth crandell
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As temperatures rise, so do reports of algae blooms in marine waters.

This week I was called with reports of a red tide. People are alarmed.  They ask if it’s safe to swim, harvest shellfish or allow their dogs into the water.

Red Tide HolHarb7

A red tide does not indicate toxins in the water.  Reddish water is often caused by Noctiluca, an algae bloom that is harmless to humans.  Some people say it looks like streaks of tomato soup in the water. The algae feed on plankton that may have become concentrated in a layer of warmer water.  Red tides are not uncommon in Holmes Harbor and Penn Cove in summer.

A basket of mussels hangs from a private dock near the south end of Holmes Harbor and a trained volunteer collects a sample every two weeks for testing. Other volunteers collect shellfish for testing along several shores of Island County.  Mussels filter food from the water column so they usually indicate the presence of biotoxins before clams and oysters that feed in the sand.

The Island County Public Health Department works with the State Department of Health and trained volunteers to monitor both shellfish and water quality on Whidbey and Camano Islands.

Taking a water sample in Penn Cove.

Taking a water sample in Penn Cove.

Biotoxins naturally occur in marine waters and can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning which can cause serious illness and sometimes even death.  These toxins cannot be cooked or frozen out.  Marine biotoxins are not visible to the naked eye.  The only way to determine if water and shellfish are safe is to test them in a lab.  Once shellfish are tested, the results are sent to the State Department of Health and the County Public Health Departments.  Appropriate signs are posted at those sites to alert the public.

The latest test results indicate safe shellfish in Holmes Harbor but these toxins can change overnight.  It’s important to call the State hotline number, 1-800-562-5632, or visit their clickable map at: before harvesting or eating shellfish.  If the tests show a presence of biotoxins, the Health Department closes the beach until further testing shows the toxins have cleared.

Signs alert the public of  water quality issues.

Signs alert the public of water quality issues.

Water samples are taken weekly throughout the summer at some of our popular beach parks. The State Department of Ecology’s BEACH program funds water sampling at Freeland County Park, Dave Mackie Park at Maxwelton Beach, and Windjammer Park and swimming lagoon in Oak Harbor.  If water quality test results indicate high levels of harmful fecal coliform bacteria signs are posted on those beaches until water quality improves.  Beaches contaminated with harmful bacteria are a public health risk.  Beaches that are near a sewer or stormwater outfall pipe, or a marina, have permanent swimming and shellfish advisories.  To find the latest test results from your favorite beach visit:


The Pope Speaks on Climate Change

June 23rd, 2015 at 9:38 am by maribeth crandell
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Last week Pope Francis called for immediate human behavior changes to fight global warming saying damage caused by contemporary lifestyles could leave future generations a devastated planet.  He chastised those who denied the connection between climate change and human behavior.  The Pope declared the planet was in peril and it was due to a culture of instant gratification.

He emphasized that climate change was a moral issue, that poor people suffer more than the wealthy from global warming, and that everyone has a duty to be responsible stewards of the planet.  His words connected environmental issues and economic issues with spiritual health and happiness.  He didn’t say anything new, it was just that it was the Pope saying it that made it big news.

He said he was praying that an international enforceable agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would come out of the Climate Change conference scheduled in Paris in 6 months.  Previous conferences on global warming haven’t made much progress.  Our leaders can help make sweeping changes but sometimes it just seems to take forever.  So while we’re waiting for them to get onboard, let’s start with what we can do now, as individuals or communities.

A couple of years ago I got a free energy audit from Puget Sound Energy.  Their representative came to my home, changed all my light bulbs to energy efficient CFLs and offered advice on ways to reduce my energy bills.  PSE also offers rebates for residential and commercial buildings and sometimes have special give-aways on appliances. I upgraded my washer and fridge and got a new super efficient ductless heat pump!  Visit their website to see what’s currently available.

Community Solar Project on Anacortes Middle School

Community Solar Project on Anacortes Middle School

My house is not in a good place for solar panels so recently I invested in the Greenbank Farm Community Solar Project.  The project involves the installation of solar panels at the farm, provides local jobs, stimulates the Island economy, provides renewable energy and an electric car charging station to the farm, and in a few years my investment will be cashed in at a good rate.  There are similar community solar projects in Anacortes and Ellensburg.  Find out more here;

If you’re house is in a sunny spot there are excellent incentives to go solar before the end of 2015. Call Whidbey Sun and Wind for details.

Bus Commuters

I love my commute.  First I walk from my house up and over a big hill.  It saves me the cost of a gym membership.  Then I catch the Island Transit bus to work.  The bus is paid for by grants and a fraction of a percent of our county sales tax.  There is no bus fare, so I save on my workout and my transportation.  And the bus is full of co-workers and friends.  Occasionally I have to drive, but when I do, I miss my walk and the camaraderie on the bus.

My car sits at home a lot but when I drive, I try to drive in a way that gets the most out of every drop of gas. I don’t carry a lot of extra weight when not necessary.  I keep my tires properly inflated. When approaching a stop I take my foot off the gas far in advance and ease up to the intersection slowly.  When I start up again, I ease out of a stop gradually.  And if I’m idling for more than a minute, I turn the engine off.  On the open road I drive the speed limit.  Driving over 60 mph is like throwing money out the window.

Gardening on a small lot

Gardening on a small lot

Growing and buying local food also helps reduce greenhouse gases.  Much of the food in the store traveled over 1,000 miles to get here.  But it’s just a few steps out to my garden where I can grow produce year round.  I also like shopping at farm stands and farmer’s markets on the Island.  The food is fresher and more nutritious, I’m supporting our local organic farmers and the atmosphere is festive.  I bring my own shopping bags which saves money on garbage disposal fees.  I compost food waste in a worm bin and use the worm manure for garden fertilizer. And of course I recycle, too.

I think the Pope would approve.

Food Waste Watchers

June 19th, 2015 at 8:57 am by maribeth crandell
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Okay, here’s the dirt.

Americans waste 40% of our food between farm and fork.  Wasted food means wasted water as 80% of our water goes to agriculture.  Wasted food also means wasted farmland with over 50% of U.S. land in agriculture.  Wasted food means wasted fuel as much of our food travels over 1,000 miles to get to our local store.  Food waste makes up 18% of our country’s solid waste which goes to landfills where it turns into methane gas which is a greenhouse gas that’s much more potent than carbon dioxide.  We Americans waste $165 billion worth of food each year.  A family of 4 spends an average of $1,600 a year on wasted food.  First we pay for it at the check-out stand and then we pay for it to get hauled to the dump.

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook

These numbers come from Dana Gunders, Food and Ag Scientist at the Natural Resource Defense Council in a 2012 report.  She has a new book out called a Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, a guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food.  It offers tips on shopping, recipes, portioning, fridge use, preserving, pickling, freezing and cellaring.  Sounds like a book my grandmother could have written if she’d taken time from her gardening, freezing, pickling and canning.

My parents grew up on farms during the Great Depression.  Nothing went to waste then.  Growing up in the 1970’s, my siblings and I weren’t allowed to leave food on our dinner plates so we only took what we knew we could eat. My made us all members of the “Clean Plate Club”.  I wonder what mom would say if she knew that 50% more food is wasted now than when we were kids.

There are many ways to cut food waste.  Let’s start at the source.  Growing some of our own food and buying food from local farmers is a good way to cut the waste, the cost and maximize the nutritional value of our food.  We can support the local economy and build community, too.  Our farmer’s markets are a fun place to shop and visit with friends. Find one near you at this website:


At the supermarket ask the produce manager for a discount on produce with spots or bruises.  Stores compete for your dollars so they only put out the most beautiful produce.  What happens to the not so pretty stuff?  In France they started a program called “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”.  Grocers sell their less than perfect produce for a discount and much less food goes to waste.

A restaurant will serve the same amount to me as they would to a 200 pound man.  (I hope I never weigh 200 pounds,) so I plan to split a meal with someone I’m dining with, or take home half for later.  The Good Samaritan Act says if there is unused food in the restaurant kitchen, it can be donated to those in need.  Unused food that has been served to a customer cannot.  A group in Portland, Oregon started a program called “Fork It Over, Portland”.  They match food businesses with surplus food with rescue agencies who distribute it to those that need it.

At home you can reduce food waste by planning meals before you go shopping.  Don’t buy more than a week’s worth of fresh food, unless you’re planning to can, freeze or pickle it.  Match your meals with your appetite and allow plenty of time for your family to eat.  Get creative with leftovers and then label and freeze some of them for later.  If you bought too much, you could donate some to the food bank.

No matter how hard you try to reduce food waste, you’ll still have some watermelon rind, broccoli stalks or egg shells left over.  Feed people first, then the chickens or the worms in the worm bin. Putting food in a yard waste compost pile attracts rodents, so put food waste in an enclosed worm bin. (See “Got Worms?” in the March blog post.) Once the animals are done with it, you’ll have good fertilizer for your garden and the whole cycle starts again! For more tips on minimizing food waste contact Janet Hall, the WSU Waste Wise Coordinator for Island County, at 360-678-7974.

Weed of the Week

June 3rd, 2015 at 2:17 pm by maribeth crandell
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My weed of the week is Canada Thistle, that spiky plant that grows tall enough to look me in the eye in defiance.  If my back is turned it will sneak into the edges of the lawn, the field and the roadside. Ever since I bought my “farm” I’ve been mowing it, clipping it and pulling it out by the roots.  This time of year thistle is about to flower.  The blooms look like pretty purple pin cushions.  Whack ‘em now!  Before they go to seed and spread with the wind to the four corners of the neighborhood.

Canada Thistle

Canada Thistle

Last year I pulled a tarp around my yard and along the roadside tugging out thistle.  I wore a raincoat and two sets of gloves to protect myself from the prickles.  I piled it up on the paved driveway to bake.  At first my pile was the size of Mt. Rainier and could probably be seen from space, but after a week in the sun it seemed to deflate.  Then I could fold up the tarp, stuff it into my hatchback and deliver it to the Island County Solid Waste Complex in Coupeville where they let me dispose of it for free.  I made three or four trips to the dump with my car full of thistle last summer. This year, my yard is much tamer than last.  Now I can focus on the Tansy Ragwort!

Canada Thistle is listed as a Class C “Noxious Weed” in Island County.  Class C weeds are generally widespread but may be selected for control at the local level.  Canada thistle, as well as Bull Thistle, are both regulated weeds in Island County, meaning landowners are legally required to control them.  Class B Weeds are currently limited to specific areas of the state.  Preventing them from spreading into new areas is a high priority.  Class A Weeds are non-native species whose populations are still small in Washington.  Preventing new infestations is key.  Eradication of all Class A plants is required by law (RCW 17.10).

If you want to see who made the 2015 State and Local Most Wanted List of Noxious Weeds visit: or   These web resources have color photos and details on each plant.

Noxious weeds (or obnoxious weeds as I like to think of them) are those non-native, invasive plants that spread quickly and dominate the landscape choking out our diverse native plants and impacting wildlife. Many were introduced as landscape plants like Yellow Archangel or Butterfly Bush, which sounds so sweet and innocent.  Some, like Tansy Ragwort and Poison Hemlock, are poisonous to humans and livestock.  If not controlled they thrive in our rural community.

Tansy Ragwort

Tansy Ragwort

Plants like Spartina, Tansy Ragwort, Purple Loosetrife, Scott’s Broom, Poison Hemlock and Spurge Laurel can move in quickly and threaten diverse plant communities. It’s important to catch them now before they cast seeds to the wind, or water in some cases. It takes a concerted effort to get them under control but every hour spent on managing these aliens pays off big time for years to come.

I met with the Island County Noxious Weed Program Coordinator, Janet Stein, who told me she has many brochures on how to deal with these unwelcome invaders.  She will also loan out weed wrenches, a tool developed to remove Scott’s Broom, but can also be used on other tough shrubs.  She may even be able to steer a hardy group of volunteers to assist you in the removal.  Or if you are among a group of hardy volunteers who are willing to help, contact Janet.  To find out more, stop in at the WSU Extension office in Coupeville or contact her at or call 360-678-7992.


When the Tide is Out the Table is Set

May 20th, 2015 at 4:01 pm by maribeth crandell
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Last weekend I met some friends for lunch in Seattle.  We dined at Iva’s’ Longhouse on Lake Union.  The street side looks much like the Ivar’s take out counter at the Mukilteo ferry terminal, but around the side it looks more like a longhouse.  I walked through a giant totem pole to get into the restaurant.  The salmon, clams and fresh halibut was tasty.  The longhouse inspired architecture reminded us that the people of Puget Sound have eaten fish and shellfish since the last ice age retreated roughly 10,000 years ago.


Ivar's Longhouse

Ivar’s Longhouse

If you’re planning to keep up this tradition and go clamming this summer, there are a few things you should know.

First and foremost, call before you dig.  Seriously.

The Washington State Department of Health monitors shellfish from the outer coast through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and into Puget Sound from Bellingham to Olympia.  Each day they post any evidence of biotoxins on their clickable map and their hotline number. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning can make you very sick and some can be fatal.  You can’t tell by looking at them if they’re safe to eat and you can’t cook or freeze the toxins out.  If you’re gathering oysters on a hot day, ice them immediately and cook them thoroughly to avoid Vibriosis.  And check before you dig any shellfish by calling 1-800-562-5632 or clicking

This site will also tell you which beaches are closed due to pollution.  In general steer clear of waterfront development with septic systems, outfall pipes or marinas.  And there may be signs on the beach that say if an area is closed and why, but not always.  The clickable map or hotline number is your best bet for safe shellfish harvesting.

Next check the Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out about the shellfish season, harvest limits and permits that may be required.  You’ll find information on seaweed harvesting, too.


And sign up for a Digging for Dinner class offered for free by experienced Beach Watcher volunteers.  Even if you’ve been digging clams for years, you’ll probably learn a lot.  Pull on your rubber boots, bring a shovel and a bucket, and take the kids for a fun afternoon.  The first classes of the year will be on Saturday, June 6 at noon at the Double Bluff Park near Freeland, and on Saturday, June 20 at noon where Zylstra Road meets Hwy 20 near Coupeville.  They’ll have an answer for any questions concerning shellfish harvesting on Whidbey Island.


For those tempted to go clamming east of Coupeville or Monroe Landing, remember there are sewer outfall pipes on both sides of Penn Cove.  To dig safely in Penn Cove, go to the west end near Zylstra Road or the park on Madrona Way.  The only people allowed to dig for shellfish at Monroe Landing are the Tribes who use the clams for bait, not for human consumption.

Freeland County Park in May 2015

Freeland County Park in May 2015


Freeland County Park in October 2014.

Freeland County Park in October 2014.


Freeland County Park was just closed to shellfish harvesting after a six week season.  Because the summer winds generally come from the north, the beach there fills with seaweed forming a thick carpet that holds pollutants that wash from the shore.  Holmes Harbor is a six mile long bay that doesn’t flush well.  Winter winds blow from the south and clear the beach so water quality improves but people don’t dig clams much in the winter.  This year the State opened the beach for clamming for six weeks in the spring before the seaweed piled up. They’ll do some studies to determine if they can schedule a shellfish season there again next spring.

Go enjoy the beach and get a taste of Whidbey!


Bike on Your Next Great Adventure

April 30th, 2015 at 3:21 pm by maribeth crandell
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Bike to work, bike to school, bike to the bus, or make the great escape and go on a biking adventure!

I’m not a cyclist.  I don’t have the clip on shoes or the skin tight shirt.  I don’t like “sharing the road” with cars, buses and trucks. I like to ride bikes, but I’m just choosy about where I go.

When I lived in Anacortes, I loved riding the Tommy Thompson bike path along the water as part of my daily commute.  I could pedal effortlessly watching the sun come up over the water, or stop to pick blackberries on my way home. My favorite part was pedaling on the old railroad trestle over the bay. It was just five miles from my house to the Park and Ride where I caught the bus the rest of the way to work.  What a lovely way to start and end each day.bikebuddy

Since leaving Anacortes, I ride much less,  but last fall I took my first multi-day Rails to Trails, bike trip, a 5 day, 250 mile ride from Pittsburgh to historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  My family lives in the area so I combined it with a visit.  My sister took me to the bike shop where I rented a hybrid bike.  They had outfitted it with a rack and panniers, headlamp, helmet, pump and a tool-kit with an extra tube.  All I needed were my clothes, water bottle and snacks.


1GAP a beginning WNewton


This bike path is a Rails to Trails project called the Great Allegheny Passage.  It runs from Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania for 150 miles to Cumberland, Maryland where it connects with the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park, 185 miles of tow path along the Potomac River that leads to Washington, D.C.  Together they make a 335 mile long, off road, almost flat, scenic and historic bike trail.   Every 5-8 miles there are camp sites with picnic tables, privies and water available.  Or you can stay in lodging in the small towns along the way that cater to recreational riders.

1GAP Small OhioP bench


I planned my stops about 50 miles apart, which gave me a little time to visit historic sites and enjoy the trip.  I went in October to see the brilliant fall foliage exploring small towns along the way and meeting other cyclists and locals. On the wooded bike path I came upon deer, ground hogs, turtles, geese and 3 flocks of wild turkeys!


I crossed trestles and walked through tunnels, and flattened pennies under historic trains.  I took photos of the locks on the C&O Tow Path where the mules used to tow barges up the Potomac River.  It was a wonderful trip.

C&O 111a small HarpersFerry WV

When I came back I began planning my next bike trip.  A friend and I took advantage of a 3 day weekend to bike on Vancouver Island.  The weather was perfect.  We took our bikes on the B.C. ferry from Tsawwassen. When we reached Swartz Bay we biked south on the Lochside Trail through Sydney, on back roads and bike paths to Victoria.  There we connected to the Galloping Goose Trail and headed west, passing through lovely parks, stopping for lunch by a lake and then pedaling on to Sooke.  We rode almost 50 miles that day.  Most of it flat.

The next day we rode the Galloping Goose through the woods along the Sooke River to the end of the trail.  We had a leisurely picnic and siesta and then rode back to Sooke for the night.  On the last day we started early and rode easily back toward Swartz Bay.  We stopped for lunch on the beach in Sydney.  It was such a clear day we could see Mt. Rainier, 140 miles away.  Later we caught the ferry and spotted Orcas just ahead!  What a spectacular way to end a great weekend bike trip.  Now I’m planning my next bike adventure!

To plan yours visit:

Inspections vs Pumping Your Septic System

April 3rd, 2015 at 2:30 pm by maribeth crandell
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State and local laws now require regular septic inspections. It helps protect surface water and ground water which is especially important when roughly 70% of Island County residents get our drinking water from underground. It’s a little complicated to determine how often and by whom these inspections should be done so let’s play the If and Then game.

First, if you know what type of septic system you have, then you can move ahead to the next paragraph.  If you have no idea, then find out by calling the Island County Public Health at 360-679-7350.

If you have a basic gravity system or conventional pressure system then you could take Septic 101 and 201 classes and for $28 you could get certified to inspect your own system. (Unless you live in a designated sensitive area like the Penn Cove watershed.  More about this below.)  Inspections are required every 3 years for a gravity system and every year for a pressure system. You can register for online or in person classes at or call 360-678-7914.

Septic Prof

If you have any other type of system, a mound, sand filter, aerobic treatment unit, etc, then you’re required to have a septic professional inspect your system annually.  You can find a list of septic professionals at Alternative System classes are also being offered this year, but not for certification.

For a Limited Time Only!

If you live in the Penn Cove Watershed then you could get a Rebate that would probably cover the cost of your inspection (not pumping).  Just take the free 30 minute Septic 101 class online at, get your system inspected in 2015, and send your invoice from a licensed Maintenance Service Provider to the County. For details call 360-678-7913.

Buyer Beware

It’s important to note the difference between an inspection and pumping.  Regular inspections are required because it’s important that your septic system is functioning properly. It’s like getting an annual tune up for your car.  An inspection helps find minor problems before they become an expensive septic repair.  Also, an inspection may cost between $200-$300 while pumping could cost twice that.  If you need financial assistance to pay for septic inspections or maintenance call Kathleen Parvin at 360-387-3443 extension 240.

Septic professionals vary widely.  Some want to pump your system whenever they come to your house, but it doesn’t need to be pumped unless the septic tank contains about 30% solids or if it requires some repair. Fees for services vary, too, so call a few and ask for quotes. If you’re shopping for a new home in Island County, then you need an inspection done before you buy.  If you buy a home with a failed septic system you cannot legally occupy that home until it’s fixed which may cost another $20,000.

Save Money on Septic Maintenance

If you don’t already have lids and risers installed for easy access to your septic system, then getter done!  It costs a bit to install them but will save money on all your future service calls.


If you spread out your water load throughout the week, then your system will run more efficiently.  Give your washer at least an hour off between loads and don’t do more than two loads a day.  Use liquid laundry soap and non-toxic cleaners.

If you have a garbage disposal, then use it as little as possible. To find out more about composting food waste in “rodent proof” worm bins, read my previous blog or visit:

If you have a septic system, then take care of it by putting only five things down your drains: water, mild detergents, mild liquids, human waste and toilet paper. Protect your drain field.  Don’t compact the soil. Don’t drive over it, park on it or build anything on it. Don’t plant large plants or a vegetable garden on it or near it.  Don’t water it.  You can learn more about caring for your septic system by taking Septic 101 at:

Got Worms?

March 26th, 2015 at 2:49 pm by maribeth crandell
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Last night I brought a house warming present to a neighbor who recently moved to Whidbey Island.  It was something I knew he’d appreciate.  Worms!  Not just any worms.  These were red wigglers known for their ability to reproduce rapidly and eat a lot of food waste.  He was starting a worm bin and I supplied the worms.

In Island County the WSU Extension Waste Wise program keeps tabs on a lot of worm bins and connects volunteers who can offer free worms to their neighbors.  Call the program coordinator, Janet Hall, at 360-678-7974, to find a neighbor with a worm bin near you.

But first you have to be ready to provide them with a good home.

This is a great time of year to start a worm bin!  Red wigglers like temperatures between 55-75 degrees and the summer months will provide the most produce leftovers for worm food.

There are several different kinds of worm bins.  You can buy them in all shapes and sizes.  You can build one from a sheet of plywood or you can make one using an old metal garbage can with a tight fitting lid.  The size depends on how much food waste your household generates.

Here’s how to make low maintenance one with a garbage can.  Dig a hole putting the rocks on one side.  When the hole is about 2/3 the depth of your garbage can, put the rocks back in the bottom of the hole.  Drill lots of ½ inch holes in the lower half of the garbage can, on the sides and the bottom for drainage.  Slide the can into the hole and fill in around it.

can in hole

“But don’t the holes let the worms escape?”   Exactly!  The worms can escape into the ground when conditions in the can don’t suit them.  It may be too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold, or there may be too many onions or citrus peelings.  They’ll come back when conditions are better.

You can feed the worms anything from a plant, including paper towels, old pizza boxes, used napkins, fruits and vegetables.  Don’t put in oily or greasy food like salad soaked in dressing, or pasta coated in cheese sauce. (Cheese comes from an animal, not a plant.)  You can add egg shells but no eggs, please.  Make sure the can lid is on tight to keep varmints out.

Can w-food

This kind of bin can attract worms that come in from the ground on their own or you can jump start it with a cup of red wigglers from a neighbor.  Then add fresh worm food at least monthly.  In six months to a year you’ll have a rich, organic soil supplement to add to your flower beds or garden.

When the can is full, add another can a foot or two away, just like the first one.  Start adding worm food to the second can.  Slowly but surely, the worms will finish off the first can’s contents and “escape” from the first can into the second through the holes.  worm harvest

To harvest the worm castings, shovel the contents of the first can into a pile on a tarp. Leave it for 10 minutes in the sun and then scrape off the top and put it into your wheelbarrow.  Make the pile into a peak again and leave it for 10 more minutes.  Scrape off the top and add it to the wheelbarrow.  Do this a few times and you’ll find a lot of worms (who don’t like light) have hidden at the base of the pile.  Dump what remains on the tarp into your second can.  Dig the good stuff from your wheelbarrow into your garden beds to build healthy soils.  Yummy!  worm manure

Next year you could be the one delivering a cup of worms to a neighbor.

Learn more about waste reduction or become a Waste Wise volunteer by contacting Janet Hall at 360-678-7974 or visit:


Freeland County Park Opens to Shellfish Harvest

March 17th, 2015 at 3:10 pm by maribeth crandell
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Since 2006 Holmes Harbor has been closed to shellfish harvesting due to water quality issues.  However, in the intervening years Island County Public Health and the Whidbey Island Conservation District have labored to turn that around.  County staff went door to door conducting septic surveys until they got over 90% of the residents to inspect their septic systems and correct any issues.  The Conservation District built a rain garden at the County Park which filters storm water run-off from the parking lot. Pet waste bag dispensers have been installed and water quality has improved.

Still there is an issue with the wrack on the beach.  Wrack is loose sea grass and kelp that accumulates on the beach.  Holmes Harbor is almost 6 miles long from Baby Island to the County Park.  Summer winds tend to blow from north to south pushing the wrack up on the beach.  It can form a foot thick carpet at times.

10-2014 Small FreelandWrackE

In winter the wind changes direction and the wrack is blown back out into the water.

The wrack build up at Holmes Harbor collects the toxins that wash into it from the shore, pet waste, oil and gas, yard chemicals, leaky septic systems all contribute.  In addition, the narrow six mile long harbor does not flush well with the tides.  So water quality will always be a challenge in Holmes Harbor.  Any help from residents and visitors is greatly appreciated.

After years of testing water and shellfish in Holmes Harbor, the State Department of Health and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed to open the shellfish season in Holmes Harbor from April 1st to May 15th.  This relatively short season will end before the expected wrack build up that may threaten water quality at Freeland County Park.

The 2015 clam quota at Freeland County Park is shared equally between local Tribes and the state’s recreational fishery.  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) monitors shellfish to make sure the recreational harvest is sustainable.  Tribes are allowed to collect shellfish within their quota as long as the beach is determined safe by the Department of Health. This may  explain why you might see harvesters there when the posted WDFW season is closed.

The WDFW monitors shellfish harvests to make sure clam diggers have the proper permits and are staying within the required daily limits for each type of shellfish.  The State Department of Health monitors shellfish for pollutants and biotoxins, which can quickly turn normally safe shellfish into a serious health hazard.  Paralytic shellfish poisoning and other toxins (invisible to the naked eye) can be life threatening so be sure to call before you dig, 1-800-562-5632, or see the clickable map at:  Get information on rules and limits at: .  The two websites are linked.  Signs posted at the beach will offer information and Beach Watcher volunteers may also be there to help answer questions.varnishclam

WDFW surveyed this beach in 2008 and again in 2014.  What they found was the population of varnish clams, which are new to Puget Sound, has boomed while the Manila clam population has dropped to one third of what it used to be.  Varnish clams feed from the sand as well as the water column which give them an advantage.  They grow high up on the beach and are easy for harvesters to reach.  They’re also called “Savory” clams and there are many recipes online. WDFW biologists may work with Tribal managers on a small test plot to remove varnish clams and replant Manila clams during the closure period this year.

If you have any questions please visit the websites above or call the Island County Health Department at 360-678-7914.

Compost Me!

March 3rd, 2015 at 3:56 pm by maribeth crandell
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Last week I went to the memorial service for Wilma Onan who died at 82 after a long adventurous life.  When I entered the church sanctuary a violinist was playing the old Quaker hymn;

 Tis a gift to be simple.  Tis a gift to be free.  Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be.

And when we come down to a place just right, we will live in the valley of love and delight.


I met Wilma in a garden and she became my garden mentor. She had indeed found a place just right for her here on Whidbey Island and her warm spirit welcomed many to work by her side.  As we worked together I know I was benefitting from her care as well as the plants around us. Her needs were simple.  Her heart was large. Her words were wise.  I loved Wilma for her earthiness, simple love of life and the mischievous twinkle in her eye.


Many good friends gathered at her memorial and told stories of their experiences with Wilma. My favorite was when Leah talked about burying a dead sheep whose many legs had stiffened in different directions.  She and Wilma cracked up laughing as they dug a customized grave for the deceased.

Wilma brought her pet goat, Clover, to the Island in her VW bug sitting on a bale of hay.  Clover followed Wilma around the farm nibbling on blackberry vines.  They often did a little dance together.  Clover would rise up on her hind legs and butt Wilma’s upheld hands.  We called it goat Tai Chi.

Wilma loved dahlias and carefully dug the bulbs each fall, bagged and labeled them, sharing them with friends in the community.  When I had emergency surgery, Wilma brought me a bouquet of deep red dahlias that felt as healing as my blood transfusion.  She distributed rhubarb and strawberry starts. Those of us who benefitted have a little bit of Wilma growing in our flower beds and vegetable gardens still.  Even after a 5 way bypass and stroke left her unable to garden people still came to her for good gardening advice.

At the end of the memorial service the violin and piano rang out;

                Inch by inch, row by row, gonna help this garden grow,

All we need is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground…

We all stayed to sing along before going to the fellowship hall for the reception.  It was like a family reunion of old friends.  We decided we should get together again at the farm this summer.  Wilma’s daughter agreed and invited us to come help spread Wilma’s ashes in the garden.  The garden.  That’s perfect.

For every thing, turn, turn, turn

There is a season, turn, turn, turn

Leaving Wilma’s ashes in the garden will allow her to live on season after season, through flowers and fruit, through spring, summer, fall and winter, with birds and spiders, butterflies and worms, making our lives richer like compost.

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About maribeth crandell

Maribeth Crandell has a green thumb. Most of the rest of her is "green", as well. She's worked in city, state and national parks as a naturalist, educator and guide, on ships and on shore from the Columbia River to Southeast Alaska. She offers presentations for 6 year olds to seniors. She publishes articles, sings songs, plays the banjo and hikes trails. In fact, in 2006 she hiked the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. She's been an educator for many organizations on Whidbey Island and for 5 years worked as the Environmental Educator for the City of Oak Harbor. She's been a consistent voice on Whidbey Island leading the way toward sustainability. Because Maribeth has a green thumb, along with the rest of her.

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