What to Plant on the First Day of Spring

Happy Spring! Now is the exciting time when we prepare for warmer weather, gorgeous colors to sprout, and wonder what greenery will be the first to debut in our gardens?

While the best time for plants to thrive may change based on the Plant Hardiness Zone in various areas, the following flowers and crops are happiest when planted in the earlier days of spring.

 

1. Hellebores

Hellebores are an excellent way to jumpstart a spring garden. These hearty evergreens come in a variety of colors and thrive in colder temperatures, sometimes blooming before the snow has even melted!

Here’s the secret to these eager bloomers: They don’t have true flowers. Hellebores have a modified calyx, or a protective covering of a typical flower bud. This makes the plant simple to care for and a welcome sight early in the season.

 

2. Pansies

 

Pansies are another colorful choice that handle cold temperatures well. If you’re still hesitant to spend too long in the cold, though, seedlings will thrive indoors for six to eight weeks.

One lesser-known perk of pansies is that certain species make a tasty, minty garnish. But be careful: To avoid consuming dangerous pesticides, it’s best to grow edible pansies from organic seeds.

 

3. Wildflowers

 

Wildflowers are one of the simplest flowers to take care of since they can be sown at almost any time of the year. Plus, once they grow four to six inches in height, natural rains will sustain them.

Most importantly, wildflowers attract honeybees, which are responsible for 80 percent of crop pollination in the United States. While you may be tempted to spray pesticides to avoid stings, enticing honeybees is vital to the long-term health of your garden—and yourself!

 

4. Cauliflower

 

Cauliflower is a versatile crop that grows best when temperatures consistently reach the 60s, although you can plant the seeds while the ground is still frosty.

Cauliflower can be consumed in a variety of delicious ways, which makes this plant particularly alluring to grow. You can serve it raw, as cauliflower rice or even as a pizza crust!

 

5. Salad Greens

 

Salad greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale and arugula all favor beating the summer heat. Best of all, some of these crops will be ready for your plate in less than two months.

If the cold lingers or you are unsure about the quality of your soil, salad greens will grow well in pots or other raised containers. Just remember that all spring seedlings rely on warmer soil temperatures, not just air.

 

What plants will you try out in your garden this Spring? Let us know!

 

 

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5 Things You Never Knew About Rainbows

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! With festivities in full swing, we thought now would be a good time to discuss one thing frequently associated with the Irish holiday. No, not four-leaf clovers. We’re talking about the breathtaking optical trick that cannot exist without water: a rainbow!

Did you know it’s impossible to reach the end of a rainbow? We’ll explain all that and more.

Connection to St. Patrick’s Day

Why are leprechauns and rainbows commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day and Irish culture, anyway? In Irish folklore, leprechauns are often seen urging people to seek out the pot of gold they’ve left at the end of a rainbow.

Here’s the thing, though: The end of a rainbow in unreachable, because whenever you move, the rainbow moves with you! Despite the fact that a leprechaun’s gold is unattainable, rainbows remain a staple of St. Patrick’s Day and the luck of the Irish. 

A Complex Science of Water and Light

Every rainbow is made up of two simple ingredients: water and sunlight. However, the process of creating a rainbow isn’t as simple as merely mixing water with light and expecting a colorful arc. The sun’s rays are made up of many different colors, but we most often perceive them as white light. When the colorful rays of light hit raindrops at a specific angle, the light both reflects and refracts through each individual raindrop as it passes through. This allows the beautiful colors of the rainbow to disperse and become visible to the human eye. Yay, science!

Double Rainbow? Triple Rainbow? Quadruple Rainbow

Double rainbows occur when the light passing through a raindrop refracts more than once. It’s even possible for three or four refractions to occur within a single drop, resulting in multiple rainbows. This is incredibly rare, though, so consider yourself extremely lucky if you witness one.

You Can Make Your Own! 

If you don’t feel like waiting for a rainstorm to pass in order to see a rainbow, you’re in luck. As mentioned earlier, all it takes to create a brilliant rainbow is a bit of water and sunlight. Grab your garden hose on a sunny day, face away from the sun and spray a fine mist—a rainbow is more than likely to form before your eyes!

Exclusively Earthly Wonder…Maybe?

Arguably one of the coolest and most unique facts about rainbows is that only Earth’s atmosphere is capable of creating and sustaining the optical visual of a rainbow. Some scientists think Saturn’s moon, Titan, is wet and humid enough for the creation of rainbows, but there likely isn’t enough direct sunlight for it to happen. For the time being, us Earthlings have some serious solar system bragging rights.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us at Aqua! Wherever you are, we hope you catch a glimpse of a rainbow very soon. Just remember: Don’t go chasing it and expecting to find gold!

 

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QUIZ: How Well Do You Know the Water Cycle?

How much do you remember about the water cycle? The process is vital to life on Earth, yet we often only think of the water cycle when weather gets in the way of our plans. The water cycle also plays a major part in long-term climate change and global economics.

To test your knowledge of the process, we put a little quiz together. And if you have little ones at home, you can take this quiz with them for added fun, especially since the water cycle is typically taught in elementary school.

For the title of Aqua Expert:

1. Water covers approximately how much of the Earth’s surface?

a. The whole thing

b. One half

c. Three quarters

d. Two thirds

2. Clouds form during which step of the water cycle?

a. Melting

b. Evaporation

c. Condensation

d. Fluffing

3. Why is ocean water so salty?

a. So that boats can float

b. Salt cannot evaporate with water

c. A chef seasoned it that way

d. There are large natural salt blocks along the ocean floor

4. What is the proper name for the process of water evaporating from plants?

a. Transpiration

b. Perspiration

c. A temperate tantrum

d. Sweating greens

5. Which of the following is NOT a form of precipitation?

a. Sleet

b. Drought

c. Rain

d. Snow

Answers:

 

Image via NASA

 

1. (c) Three quarters. Water covers about 71 percent of Earth, or just under three quarters. It’s no wonder most evaporation occurs on ocean surfaces!

2. (c) Condensation. Clouds form when water vapor condenses back into a liquid. The water droplets gather in the sky until they become too heavy, then fall back to earth as precipitation.

3. (b) Salt cannot evaporate with water. Small amounts of salt are released into fresh water rivers that naturally flow out to oceans and seas. The salt is left behind when water evaporates or freezes. Therefore, the ocean is always getting saltier!

4. (a) Transpiration. Humans lose water through breathing, and so do plants. In fact, 10 percent of water in the atmosphere is believed to come from transpiration.

5. (b) Drought. Drought refers to a lack of precipitation. While drought doesn’t immediately threaten us like other natural disasters, it can be one of the most expensive weather-related events to affect an area.  

How did you do? Which questions did you find simple or surprising? Let us know!

 

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DIY Terrariums: Put Some Spring in Your Step!

Happy March! We’ve entered the final stretch of winter—some areas are still experiencing cold temperatures, but spring officially begins this month.

Now is the time to reintroduce green to your life by building your own terrarium. This simple and low-maintenance indoor garden will freshen up your home and spirit for the upcoming season.

What You’ll Need:

  • Sturdy, clear container
  • Pebbles for drainage
  • Potting soil or sand (no fertilizer)
  • Plants (succulents or mosses work well)
  • Decorations (optional)
  • Water and spray bottle for maintenance

 

What to Do:

 1. Consider using fun, unique containers to house your terrarium. Unexpected displays such as a domed glass cake tray, large conch shell or even a hollowed lightbulb can make your mini-garden reflect your style and fit in wherever you need more greenery.

2. Layer the bottom of your container with pebbles. This creates a drainage system for plant roots in case of overwatering. Adding potting charcoal can also be beneficial to some terrarium styles. This layer will help keep water free of impurities and prevent mold growth.

3. Fill your container with soil or sand, leaving enough space to house your plants or any decorations you plan on using. Fertilizer is not recommended for terrariums, since plants need to adjust to permanent soil and have limited space to grow.

4. Pick your plants. While many types of plants can thrive inside a terrarium, they have vastly different needs in soil, sunlight and water. It’s important to pick plants that best suit your living environment for stress-free care.

5. Make it your own! There’s an endless amount of accessories that can bring some personality to your new terrarium. Consider a woodland fantasy or Easter theme for spring. 

Aquatic Tips and Tricks

Keep a spray bottle full of water nearby to hydrate and refresh your plants. The force of water can easily disturb terrarium settings when it is poured from above.

Closed terrariums thrive in a humid environment. While some plant varieties can be fully self-sustaining, it’s important to keep an eye out for mold and occasionally allow the container to air out.

For a more aquatic look, plants like Anubias can be planted in tall vases and submerged in water. Once spring flowers begin to bloom, you can also preserve them in water and bring their beauty inside. 

How will you personalize your spring terrarium? Share your homemade ecosystems with us!

 

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Aqua Illinois Director of Operations Colton Janes Creates a Forum for Sharing Management Best Practices

Leaders are Readers

By Colton Janes

I once received a note from Harry S. Truman (via Rick Fox) that said, "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." I believe this to be true.

Earlier in my career, I accepted a management role with little prior experience. I understood that I could learn the hard way through inevitable personal failures and then eventually time-based, experience-reaping successes, or I could stand on the shoulders of giants and glean as much as I could from seasoned managers who had already documented their learnings.

I chose the latter, and some 40 books later, I continue to reap the benefits.

I began reading works from various authors on a number of professional topics. Amongst my favorites were Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, The Oz Principle by Roger ConnorsTom Smith and Craig Hickman and The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. These books taught me about change management, the power of accountability and building a healthy work culture.

After a little while, many of my peers began to ask me about the books I was reading. This made me realize that many of us who work in water and wastewater don’t have a forum for swapping management best practices. Recognizing this knowledge gap, I talked to Laurie Dougherty, the executive director of the Illinois section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) about starting a book club.

She liked the idea, and she helped me turn it into reality. 

After spreading the word, we had 40 people sign up for what we titled the Leadership Book Club. We planned our first virtual meeting for Wednesday, January 25, and most of those who joined the book club attended.

The goal of our first meeting was to set the course for remaining meetings. Using a webcast format, we had a lively and interactive discussion about what participants hoped to get out of the meetings; best, as well as worst, practices of managers with whom the attendees have had experience; a poll of which books to choose for future meetings; and time for questions to answer as a group. 

We determined that the group would meet one hour each month, and among the chosen books were Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, as well as one of my favorites, Switchby Chip and Dan Heath.

I'd love to encourage members of our Aqua family to join in the discussion. If you're interested in participating, email me at CJanes@AquaAmerica.com. Book recommendations are also always welcome.

Editor’s note:

As a manager of 100 employees, Colton Janes believes in a hands-on, team-oriented approach, working directly with operators to improve standard operating procedures and to optimize existing systems to meet company goals. He enjoys exploring new and innovative management practices and is an avid reader.Description: http://c.ymcdn.com/email_image.aspx?t=GipMMI1fMpTbfh87m%2fZW17KY7KM2RI5FHzHHABnUxmwNvmS9Pbg6Ac2DVK8RVPxHtqzvqjFDV0oG%2bGtn%2b72FwZsEK3rbkvtTsLSXW3oFe6vf74MHzFhf5pBgm508uJrNPrior to the creation of the Leadership Book Club, Janes got in the practice of sharing reviews on the books he read with his colleagues. The following review of The Effective Manager is one of them:

Last fall I was driving home from work on a breezy Midwestern afternoon and thought to myself, “I didn’t talk to Brian this week…yup, didn’t talk to him once this entire week. I’m a terrible manager.” I tried to rationalize my actions since it was a busy week and there were fires that needed dousing, but after a few stoplights I thought there has to be a better way. A few months later I was turned on to the Manager Tools podcast. I binged on these for a few weeks and bought The Effective Manager so I could write this review.

Few managers have been trained on how to manage employees. Many “fake it until they make it” or do what the person before them did. Although management theory is helpful on a strategic level, tactical step-by-step instruction has a place in creating repeatable managerial results. Instead of discussing “absentee managers” or other forms of lackluster management, can we all just agree that nearly every manager has room to improve?

The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman focuses on four critical behaviors to best manage people:

  1. Get to know your people
  2. Communicate about performance
  3. Ask for more
  4. Push work down

Each behavior has a management best practice to ensure success.

The first behavior, “Get to know your people,” is accomplished by weekly 30-minute one-on-ones (O3s):

All of our data over the years show that the single most important (and efficient) thing that you can do as a manager to improve your performance and increase retention is to spend time getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of your direct reports. Managers who know how to get the most out of each individual member of the team achieve noticeably better results than mangers who don’t. The most efficient way to get to know your team is to spend time regularly communicating with them. 

Weekly meetings are required and structured in a specific format to increase effectiveness. The focus of this meeting is to get to know the employee, so the first 10 minutes are given to them to discuss anything: kids, sports, home life, weather, work, projects and pets are all free game. The second block of 10 minutes is for the manager to discuss whatever is deemed necessary (i.e. projects, performance, upcoming changes or budgets). The final 10 minutes is set aside for coaching and delegation.

An example of this working successfully can be seen in Pat Wren, the regional supervisor for Northern Illinois, who has 12 direct reports. He meets with all of them weekly and continues to get rave reviews. Employees feel valued, heard and up-to-date with company news.

Second, communicate about performance through the feedback model. I believe this is the real test of an effective manager. Providing quick and consistent feedback allows for gradual adjustments with little lag. This behavior has four parts:

  1. Ask: Ask for permission to give feedback. Example: “Can I give you some feedback?”
  2. State the behavior: Focus on behaviors, not attitudes or hard-to-define items. Example: “When you…”
  3. State the impact of the behavior: Describe how the behavior helped or hurt. Example: “Here’s what happens when you…”
  4. Encourage effective future behavior: The goal is improvement, not dwelling on the past or punishing. Example: “Keep it up!” or “Can you change that?”

The third behavior, “Ask for more,” is about coaching your employees. Coaching seems intuitive to most managers, but it requires planning and time. Horstman explains a simple process to build a coaching plan.

  1. Collaborate to set a goal: What skill or behavior does the employee need to get better?
  2. Collaborate to brainstorm resources: Note all the resources that could be helpful. This should be a safe place where no suggestions are dumb.
  3. Collaborate to create a plan: Create a plan for quick wins to gain momentum.
  4. The employee acts and reports on the plan.

The final behavior, “Push work down,” is about consistent delegation. As we move higher in title and responsibility, expectations change. It is less about what I can do and more about what we can do. Sometimes very strong performers get promoted but never embrace delegation. Initially they seem to excel, but in time they burn out. Becoming overwhelmed and stressed by the increased workload often leads to resignation or forced resignation. The best practice is simple: Pass tasks down so you are free to do more.

This is powerful material. I have committed to training the Illinois management team on each section. These tools are an investment in becoming a better manager, encouraging positive company culture and helping employees shape their career paths.

If anyone wants to hear how the implementation is going, feel free to reach out.

 

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