Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Rain Water Experiment

With pretty much all of my gardening endeavors finished for the year now except for the tomatoes and peppers I think I can give a pretty accurate report on how the rain water catchment experiment worked out.

In short it worked extremely well until the pumpkin/melon/squash sections of the garden got so over grown I couldn't walk into them to water any longer. For everything else it worked pretty much as I expected but it did take considerably more time watering by hand of course. I thought about incorporating a soaker hose into the system at one point but never did.

For those of you unfamiliar with the details of this experiment I will recap a bit. After repairing and replacing the gutters on the old farm house I also re-claimed a 1200 gallon cistern that required a new cap to be poured and then built an extension on my deck and added two 55 gallon rain barrels which would be elevated roughly 2 foot above the raised bed and garden areas. The overflow from the barrels was then set up to redirect into the cistern until it was full at which point I removed the overflow hose so as not to overflow the cistern.

If the rain barrels became empty I was using a temporary solution of a cordless drill pump to bring the water back up out of the cistern into the rain barrels. The next stage of this project will be to install an actual hand pump that can be removed in Winter to do this with but as it turned out we had enough rain this year that I only needed to pump water back into the barrels twice this Summer. Typically I tried to keep the rain barrels about half full at all times to keep the gravity pressure acceptable and still allow room for refilling when it rained.

Using simple gravity and a hose I could then transfer rain water directly from the rain barrels into a 50 gallon holding tank, which was a tupperware storage box half buried in the garden. From this central point I simply hand watered everything using buckets. Basically the entire set up saved me from walking the 30 yards or so back to the barrels to refill the buckets. The gravity flow was just about perfect to keep the level in the garden "pool" consistent as I watered.

Now admittedly we almost had enough rain during the first two months of the garden season that hand watering was not needed nearly as much as some years. Yet the entire system worked extremely well until as I said the pumpkin/melon patch got so over grown I couldn't get to the actual area the plants had sprouted from without crushing all the interlocked stems and fruit. At this point starting about late July I resorted to using a hose and sprinkler off the normal county water for this section of the garden. So I guess you could say the experiment was a failure because of my own poor planning of the explosive early growth.

However as a workable system it proved very useful. The water barrel point proved very useful for all types of watering with a simple shutoff valve hanging there we began watering almost all of the plants using the gravity fed hose over turning on the normal water spigot. Getting the wife on board with this experiment proved the hardest part of the entire thing but the Mrs. and watering of any kind is a very volatile situation that is best not gotten into right now.

Let's just say if she has to do anything with water, from dragging a hose to washing a plate, she is in a lousy mood the rest of the day. Not to mention she can wipe out weeks worth of work in 30 seconds with one garden hose. It's not pretty.

The fact is if the situation became dire she would use this system to full effect but depending on her mood (see the paragraph above) her acceptance of it varied greatly during the entire trial.

Women, What ya gonna do?

With a total storage capacity of around 1300 gallons this system would take some managing if it was the only water storage available. It really doesn't have enough overall storage available to get all the surplus needed from the rainy period to tide us over through the entire dry period. As I figure it right now we would really need at least another 1500 gallons of storage space to make this easier. However I have plenty of "untapped" resources available for expansion and an old capped well I could reopen if I need to along with the pond if things got dire. The entire rain water system for the whole place is no where near complete but I have managed to work out many of the problems from the first section that I will incorporate into the barn system. With roughly 10,000 square foot of roof on the barn that system will require a much larger holding tank when I get around to designing it.

All in all though I would call it a pretty good trial run. Not something I would necessarily relish using over the simple water on demand county water and spigot certainly but we could continue indefinitely using only this system. Of course a drought would be hard to manage without more storage capacity as I said.

Still it's a pretty good and workable start.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


  1. I grew up when people used cisterns and they are setting empty since people got city water even out in the country. I remember my grandfather measuring out clorox and putting it in the cistern one summer as the water started to smell bad, who knows what died on the roof. We probably had good antibodies built up and could have drank out of the creek. I found the old cistern here and uncovered it as I was going to use it and they had filled it with rock and dirt, I couldn't believe it, why do that. So I can't think of an easy way to clean it out now, crap.

    1. Sf - Mine actually has the start of being filled as well with old rubble. Point in fact insurance companies used to give some owners breaks in the rate if the old cisterns were filled in. I certainly would not wish to drink straight out of my cistern but in a pinch I would use the water out of it after it has been treated and ran through my filter setup.

  2. A video you might not have seen.

    1. That was a neat video. I thought about putting in a clean out but since I take my tanks down in Winter it really isn't necessary. Weight, the need to elevate and Winter temps mean I need to empty my above ground tanks each Fall and store the water below ground until the next Spring.


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