July 20, 2014

Rainwater Catchment Update & A Few Garden Photos

Last summer it rained so much that we used very little of the water we collected in our rainwater tanks. This summer, we've used it all. We had good rainfall in May, and in June the garden still looked good.

June: Amish Paste tomatoes in front, Zuchetta summer squash behind.

Until last Friday July had been hot and dry and everything looked it. Our highs have been in the low 90s F / 30s C and rain has only been scant drizzles. The ground has been thirsty. That's worrisome for a gardener.

Remember the ground Dan plowed with his new 2-wheel 
tractor? I planted Amaranth and it's doing splendidly
in spite of no rain. This crop will be for feed grain.

We used all the water in the rainwater collection tanks. We have five, 275 gal / 1000 liter tanks, which were full at the beginning of summer. That 1375 gal / 5000 L seemed like a lot then, but during two months of no rain it didn't seem like enough! Even things in mulched beds were wilting. It was hard trying to decide where to use the last of those gallons. I felt like a mother who has only enough food to feed one of her 12 starving children. I finally decided on the okra, which hadn't received any yet.

Okra being watered from the rainwater tanks with the new irrigation pipe.
I hadn't mulched it yet because I did a 2nd planting due to poor germination.

The PVC pipe you see in the photo above is what I'm using to irrigate. I got tired of wrestling with soaker hoses, so Dan drilled a series of small holes in a length of pipe and fitted it so I could attach the garden hose. This works very well and I'd eventually like to have them permanent in every garden bed (I have 30 beds in the main garden).

We were concerned about the corn and decided to set up one of the empty tanks in a front corner of the house.

This 275 gallon tank collects from from a larger area
of roof than the 1st tanks. One inch of rain fills it!

Dan made some changes with this one. He lowered the clean-out plug and you can also see the overflow pipe. It's full because thankfully it started to rain Friday night. We got 1.85 inches of slow, steady rain all day yesterday (just for fun, you can see what Sam did in the rain here.) Temperatures dropped too, so that it was almost chilly.

Garden grown Tendergreen green beans, sweet basil,
Zuchetta summer squash, and Boston Pickling cucumbers. 

Our rainwater collection is something we definitely want to expand. In fact, that's one nice thing about a rainwater catchment system, it's easy to add on to. We've discussed 1000 gallon tanks, but tanks run anywhere between $1 - $2 per gallon, so that would be over $1000 for one 1000 gallon tank. The other possibility is making our own with ferrocement. No plans for that at the moment, but it's a thought. The totes are cheap (about 25¢ per gallon) and stackable. So for now, something is better than nothing; a favorite phrase of mine.


jewlz said...

As usual, your timing is uncanny. I have plans to water my garden from an outbuilding north of it. The house roof is also metal, as well as a few more outbuildings, so I foresee a sizable collection. I'm just not certain whether using this water for livestock presents problems. Especially for the dairy animals. Would you water your gals with it?

Dawn said...

Water catchment is what I have been looking at this week, I have 4 barrels that we brought with us but no-were near enough, those are usually set up around the greenhouse, I am looking at IBC tanks, even though this is not a dry area we are on a water meter so its a cost reducing excersise for me, also I have been told by the previous owners there is problems in winter with the supply freezing up for days at a time its still all a thought process for me at the moment.

Lynda Bickley said...

I notice on your photo of your tote, it is not covered. My husband has done some research into totes, and apparently, if left out in the light, the plastic degrades.

You may already know this and not be worried, but I thought it was worth a mention.

We intend to wrap our in black plastic, which is what is recommended.

Leigh said...

JW, good question. First I would add a filter before using it for livestock. In fact, we are going to add filters (sand and charcoal, homemade) to all of ours because even with the clean-out plug to catch initial debris, sediment still collects. But that's for a future post!

Dawn, cost of city water is actually the motivating force for us as well. That, and there's something wasteful about all that water going down the drain! Catchment tanks can have freezing problems as well, but precautions can be taken for that. We don't have cold enough winters to worry about that, however, because the thermal mass of the water in the tank prevents freezing. I'm guessing that in Wales you won't have that problem either, but it's worth a mention.

Lyn, you are correct about PVC in the sunlight. I should have mentioned that this tank will be painted opaque. The others are in the shade, so I didn't worry about it. I'd not heard of covering with black plastic, but that wouldn't be an option in my part of the country because of our hot climate. Here, that plastic would heat up the water to near scalding! I have to be careful of water left sitting in our dark green hose because it can be too hot to touch. I wouldn't want to burn my plants, LOL. It would make a good solar hot water heater however. It is also possible to buy non-degradable PVC, but I understand those are pricier.

Farmer Barb said...

Ok, you started it--what's a ferrocement?

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Hello Leigh! We are blessed with deep wells on our farm so we don't at this point catch rainwater but on our next small place, The Poor Farm we will need to do that. Thanks as always for your blog and your posts. I always learn something wonderful.

Renee Nefe said...

For us this summer has been odd. Usually our rainy season is in June and then July is very hot & dry. However, this year we have been getting a lot of rain in July as well...at least the violent thunderstorms have stopped for the most part. My garden is still in recovery from the last hail storm though...I need to go plant more spinach and carrots.
On the way to the airport last week we noticed that they had several (10+) containers like your water containers out in the construction zone where they are working on the roads (we're getting train service at the airport finally!) Of course from the road we couldn't tell what they had stored in the containers. But they made me think of you.

1st Man said...

Your garden looks great. And congrats on some rain. We had a horrible drought a couple of years ago, it's sad what no rain will do to things. I decided then that we should have some sort of rainwater harvesting system eventually. You've got some great info. I just got your book yesterday (YAY!) and so I will be reading it from front to back.

Leigh said...

Barb, good question. Ferrocement is a sand/cement mix used to make water storage tanks. Art Ludwig (Water Storage: Tanks. Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds says it's the best all-around material for a permanent water tank. It can be a DIY job, using a steel grid to shape the tank which is coated with the ferrocement about 2 - 4 fingers thick. Not sure if we'll actually ever do that, but it's something Dan would like to try.

Donna, hi! You are so lucky to have those deep wells. We know there is an old well somewhere on our property, but whether or not it still contains water is anybody's guess.

Renee, you have had a lot of trouble with hail! I know you can't do rainwater collection, but those tanks are pretty nice. We found ours on craigslist.

1st Man, thank you! I do hope you find the book an encouragement. You've probably already noted photos and a description on pages 132 - 134 of our first rainwater set-up. Maybe you all will be able to improve upon that.

Unknown said...

We're looking like we'll get some rain tonite, and next 2 days. We need it! Been 100 and no rain for a month or more...

Sandy Livesay said...


Your Amaranth is gorgeous. Will the goats be eating this as part of their diet?
I tried growing Amaranth, and nothing produces. I think I had bad seeds. Next spring, I'll plant seeds again.

Kev Alviti said...

Rainwater collection is something I want to expand on here. We're on water rates so it doesn't matter how much we use we only pay a set fee. But rainwater is so much better for the plants and I want to reduce our impact as much as possible. Also how knows how much it's going to go up in price in the future! Good plan with yours, keep expanding as much as you can. The manor house behind our little house has underground brick chambers for collection water built hundreds of years ago.

Harry Flashman said...

That's a very popular system for obtaining and storing water. Virtually every show I've seen on tv that deals with living in dry environments, people have something similar.

It's a good investment.

Leigh said...

Nancy, I know you'll be relieved for that!

Sandy, the variety is Golden Giant (or Giant Golden, I can never remember which); seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The heads are huge with tons of seed. Yes, the goats will eat it and the chickens will too.

Kev, interesting about the underground brick cistern! My grandparents had an underground rainwater cistern, I guess built with the house (1905). A downspout from the rain gutter was used to fill it. I remember as a little girl they would use the water for my grandmothers garden.

I so much agree about rainwater being better for plants. I edited out the story of our sweet potatoes, because the post was getting too long, but I plan to post it sometime. My sweets wouldn't sprout in tap water.

Harry, I can see why because these totes are such an affordable option. I agree it's a good investment.

jamie said...

No rain....in Tennessee....for 2 months??? I guess that this can be expected when Earth's magnetic poles are shifting at an alarming pace...not to mention the depletion of our Magnetosphere. This is the new "norm" I suppose until some new pattern stabilizes.

Here in Michigan it has been a most unusual summer. Periods of high heat and humidity interspersed with cool days and nights...oh, and lest I forget...days of intermittent rain showers reminiscent of a Florida weather pattern.
Today? 88 with a real feel of 90 something. Tomorrow's forecast? 70 with rain showers.

I feel your pain in rationing out your water stores. At least you prepared to the best of your abilities.