Local residents stampede fairgrounds during rain barrel and tree sale

9:30am, Saturday, April 25 – Lake Elmo area police are called to the Washington County Fairgrounds after a crowd of local residents swarms Conservation District staff during their annual tree and rain barrel sale. Witnesses report that a woman in a tan station wagon leapt out of her car yelling, “No more winter, ever, ever again!” Shortly thereafter, people began jostling one another as they raced to scoop up bundles of trees, rain barrels and compost bins. One man tripped over a weed wrench as he rushed to ask a Master Gardener about emerald ash borer, and in the ensuing confusion, a rack of informative brochures was knocked to the ground.

Well, perhaps that won’t really happen, but for reasons I don’t fully understand, people in Minnesota seem to go bonkers about rain barrels, trees and all things gardening come April. I understand the excitement when a long, dreary winter finally gives way to spring – I myself have already been Googling garden arbors in anticipation – but it’s almost as if we’ve all been on a diet since October and just discovered the rain barrels are filled with chocolate frosting.

The Washington Conservation District began its tree sale in 1978 as a way to provide low-cost trees to local residents for habitat plantings, farm shelter belts, wind breaks, and home landscaping. Last year it sold more than 18,000 trees. The tree orders start trickling in over the winter, and by the end of March, the phone is ringing off the hook with people anxiously inquiring if they’re too late to get their trees. Already this year, Balsam Fir, Wild Plum, Paper Birch, Norway Spruce, Sumac, Common Choke Cherry, White Pine, White Spruce, Basswood/Linden, and White Oak are sold out, and the sale doesn’t even end until April.

For around ten years, the Washington Conservation District has been offering rain barrels during their spring sale, and this year, the District will partner with Recycling Association of Minnesota to offer both rain barrels and compost bins.

Rain barrels are popular because they enable gardeners to make use of a resource that would otherwise go to waste. By collecting rainwater from rooftops, they prevent the water from flowing off down a driveway or into a storm sewer. Later, this water can be used for trees and gardens in the yard, instead of relying on city water or pumping new well water out of the ground. Compost bins also help gardeners to turn waste into a resource. The bins convert leaves, grass and kitchen scraps into nutrient rich compost that can be used to boost flower and vegetable gardens. This helps to keep food waste out of landfills and also provides free fertilizer.

To learn more about the Washington Conservation District spring sale, go to www.mnwcd.org. Trees are available in bundles of 25 for $35, with a special bird-friendly packet of 30 trees for $53 available as well. The rain barrels hold 54 gallons of water and cost $69. They come with all of the necessary hardware, as well as a screen on the top to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs inside.  Compost bins hold 82 gallons and cost $55. All items must be pre-ordered and picked up at the Washington County Fairgrounds on Friday April 24, 8am-8pm or Saturday, April 25, 8am-noon.

No stampeding is allowed, even in the name of conservation.