Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Watering etiquette

July/August 2014 California Bountiful magazine

The conversation continues with our full interview with Tiffany Nielsen...

More online: Gardening techniques and more

Tiffany Nielsen of Exeter in Tulare County is a certified etiquette trainer, speaker and image consultant. She's also an advocate for water efficiency in the garden.

Why is water efficiency important to you?
Life doesn't exist without water. From shorter showers and flushing toilets only when necessary to pouring cooking water into garden beds, we can always discover creative ways to use less.

You collect rainwater. How did that start?
California's drought situation launched Operation Capture Water. I began tracking the weather, looking for any possible signs of rainstorms. I prayed for rain, too. Finally, a sizable storm dumped significant amounts of water and I went gangbusters! But caught up in stalking storms, I failed to prepare a capturing system. It's amazing what the human mind creates in times of desperation and determination! First, I tore apart two downpour gutters. Sopping wet, I used every possible bucket, bin, pot or can I could get my hands on. Time was of the essence. Eventually, I emptied our own recycling bins and shoved them under the drain sprouts. By that time, my husband, David, came home and walked into the backyard to see that I looked like a drowned rat and his gutter system had a new design with unused pieces everywhere.

How long have you been gardening?
David and I have been gardening together since 2008, the year we were married. I learned about gardening from my mom, who had me pull weeds in her gardens as penance for misbehaving. Now look at me: I love pulling weeds!

As an etiquette coach, how would you advise someone whose neighbor seems to be overwatering?  
I would strike up a conversation with my neighbor about gardening and the drought, using the principles of etiquette: consideration, respect and honesty.

"Good morning, neighbor! How's your garden coming along? What did you plant this year? Oh, that's great! I've been doing my best to conserve water using rain barrels and limiting the amount of water we use in the house. No one's allowed to pour any sort of water down the drain without first checking with me!

"I noticed that your lawn sprinklers were running for a long time today, causing a good amount of runoff that I think you'd want to know about. I know watering timers can malfunction, so I thought I'd let you know what's going on. I wouldn't want you to receive a call from the city or a nasty complaint from another neighbor. The awful drought conditions have everyone on high water alert, don't you think?"

Mistakes happen; none of us are perfect. How we handle difficult situations can make or break neighborly relationships. Treat the neighbor how you'd want to be treated if it were you committing the watering faux pas.

Describe your gardening techniques.
First, there's Mom's technique that I use today: Plant what you want to eat and enough to share with others.

Second, is perfecting our imperfect compost piles. Despite what some would consider compost faux pas, the earthworm colony within the compost is impressive and the pile works for us.

Third, we use just about every square inch of our urban yards to grow produce. Vegetation flourishes between our rose bushes and drought-tolerate plants and around fruit and shade trees.

Fourth, I spend mornings and evenings in the gardens. I rid areas of snails and leaf-eating critters, test soil moisture levels and look over the drip lines.

If you were to pick a theme for your garden, what would it be?
Native Californian vegetation with a Mediterranean flair. 

What reaction to your garden have you gotten from your community?
Our garden has been a featured destination on the Exeter Garden Walk. Only good remarks were put in the guest book.

I have a blueberry bush in our front yard, plus I plant squash and herbs along the front driveway and walkway. My kitchen sink faces out to the front yard, and sometimes I watch people stop their exercise or their cars to look at our garden. Every so often, I see someone pick a fresh blueberry, which fills my heart with joy because I sense they are experiencing a fresh-picked blueberry for the very first time. Our mailman calls my front yard veggie garden, "A Victory Garden." 

What are some of your favorite things to make with your garden-fresh ingredients?

  • Butternut squash soup, sautéed or oven-roasted butternut squash with Brussels sprouts and beets.
  • Cucumber salad with fresh dill, salt, garlic, cream and pepper. 
  • Homemade tomato sauce using fresh garden herbs, onions and garlic. 
  • Canned dill or sweet pickles using fresh dill and garlic. 
  • Sliced tomatoes drizzled with hand-pressed olive oil from our friends' olive farm. 
  • Summer squash baked with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. 
  • Fresh-picked avocados wrapped in flour tortillas with salsa, sour cream and a small pinch of salt. 
  • Tangerines tossed into green salads. 
  • Fresh-squeezed grapefruit and orange juice with champagne! 

What are some of your other passions?
David is the owner of Nielsen & Associates Insurance, an insurance agency in Exeter. Our family business allows us to give back to our beloved community in many special ways. Serving others has been a steadfast principle in our family.

In addition to supporting David's community activities, I have the honor of serving on the Tulare County Farm Bureau Fundraising Committee and as a youth leadership advisor with the Tulare County Farm Bureau Youth Leadership Program. Volunteering with our county Farm Bureau is rewarding and fun! In addition, I have a passion for speaking and sharing motivational, engaging and much-appreciated professional and social etiquette keynotes and workshops.

My passions extend to international travel, quality time spent with our families and friends, retreating to South Dakota to tend to our herd of cattle and counting down the days to picking the first summer tomato!

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