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Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is an excellent way to provide clean or treatable water for your garden or emergencies. Barry V discusses how to harvest rainwater.

December 30, 2019
Barry V.



Have you noticed how well plants respond to a rainstorm? They love it. Contrast that to watering your plants with city water and a garden hose. That’s perfectly okay, and the plants are happy to get the water. But their enthusiasm isn’t the same as with rainwater. Why do you suppose that is?

Rainwater is natural. Plants adapted to it over many Millenia and they thrive on it. The soil contains nitrates, which are absorbed by the plants. In turn, we eat the plants and take up the nitrogen, which our metabolic systems utilize. We have a symbiotic relationship with the plants we eat. A lightening rainstorm gives us an awesome spectacle, but of more importance it helps to fertilize the soil by fixing nitrogen. In contrast, tap water is, uh — meh.

And then there is the chlorine in tap water. Chlorine is a blessing and a curse. It is used in small amounts to purify and make safe our tap water; it plays an essential role. But chlorine is also a deadly poison; it kills bacteria, both the harmful bacteria and the good bacteria. So yes, go ahead and use a garden hose to water your plants if needed. After all, we cannot make it rain when we want. Mother Nature has her own schedule. But watering with a garden hose is a poor substitute for natural rainfall.

So that brings up the question: can we store rainwater for later use on our plants? But of course! This is easy to do and highly recommended. Your options are limited only by your ingenuity and energy. Welcome to the world of rainwater harvesting.

Let us start simply. Go outside and gaze up at your roof. Note where the rain runs off your roof. These runoff spots are ideal places to set 5 gallon or larger buckets to collect rainwater. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, so five gallons weighs about 42 pounds plus the bucket weight.

Do you have gutters and downspouts? If so, good. You can adjust your downspouts to drain the water into larger plastic containers, which in turn can be tapped at the low point to gravity-flow rainwater to your garden when needed. Be sure to have a level foundation for your water collection containers. Carefully-set and leveled concrete blocks are good. And your containers should be elevated a foot or more above the ground, so that water will flow from your collection containers to your garden. If your garden is at a higher elevation than your water containers, you can rig simple, inexpensive electric pumps to get the water when you want it. You can even use solar electric power for your pumps if you are resourceful. Here is where your level of ingenuity matters.

Let’s briefly cover efficient watering of your garden. First, avoid overwatering. This is very common and a basic gardening mistake. The rule of thumb is to water infrequently but deeply. Use your index finger to gauge the moisture level in your garden soil. Stick your finger into the ground a couple of inches. If it feels moist, do not water. If it is powder dry, water it deeply and then do not water again until it is dry. With a bit of practice you will spot indicator plants that will scream for mercy when they are overly dry. Keep a close eye on them. If you are unable to stick your finger a couple of inches into your soil, then your soil needs serious amending to make it fertile. Till in peat moss or ground coconut fiber (coir) and some good, finished compost until your soil is loose and fluffy.

Second, do not use impact sprinklers or spray type sprinklers unless really necessary. They waste water through evaporation. Drip irrigation systems are water-efficient and highly recommended. You will find the necessary equipment at your local big-box store’s garden department, or you can order it on-line. The idea is to provide exactly the amount of water needed by each plant, and no more. If you are so inclined, you can set up a fertigation system to provide both water and liquid fertilizer to your plants.

Don’t make the common mistake of watering only at the stem of the plants. Water close to the drip line — that’s where rainwater drips from the plant’s foliage to the soil below — and that is where the feeder roots are. A good drip irrigation system can deliver precisely the amount of water and liquid nutrients needed by each plant. The more you research this on-line, the more knowledgeable you will become in how to do this.

Back to the subject of your roof. If the shingles are of the composition type, the runoff rainwater is excellent for your plants but the water should be considered non-potable, so do not drink it. If you are fortunate enough to have a metal or tile roof, lucky you, for you can collect drinkable water.

Before we move on, here is an easy way to dissipate the chlorine in your tap water and make your plants happier. Fill five gallon containers with tap water and put them out in direct sunlight. After a few days the chlorine will have dissipated and you can use the water for your plants.

A major focus of Integrated Skills Group is situational awareness, avoiding potentially violent confrontations, and becoming more self-sufficient in an increasingly uncertain world. Let us consider the three major essentials that sustain life. These are food, clothing and shelter. Water is part of the food grouping. It is said that a human can live 30 or more days without food but no more than about 3 days without water. In an emergency, it will be critical to have available safe drinking water that will not make you sick.

Almost any water source, even bacteria laden and somewhat polluted water, can be made safe for drinking in several ways. In an emergency situation you do not want to become sick and unable to function. So it makes sense to have a way of purifying water and making it safe to drink. There are several such products on the market, most of which are equally effective, but after researching it thoroughly I purchased a Big Berkey system with four ceramic filters and a package of four replacement filters. That can provide several thousand gallons of safe drinking water in an emergency. There are other equally effective brands and I am not endorsing the one I chose.

Let us define emergency. I do not mean nuclear armageddon, necessarily, though that cannot be ruled out. Suppose the local water utility encounters temporary problems and issues a boil-water order. Boiling unsafe tap water will usually render it safe, though it might taste flat. But let us also suppose that the local electricity provider goes down for a week or two. Unless you have natural gas or propane and the means to boil water, you are in trouble. You see where I am heading with this?

Floodwaters often compromise sanitized municipal water facilities.
If you store in a pantry or closet a well-regarded water filtration system, you are buying insurance against contaminated water. There are many water filtration systems that are heavily advertised. Some of these may be okay but I suggest doing your own research on this and selecting a tested product. My system provider also offers black carbon filters (I chose the ceramic filters) that filter even more effectively, though at greater expense).

With one of these filtration systems, if you can collect water from a nearby pond, stream or lake, you can make it safe to drink in an emergency. Remember, food, clothing and shelter, and remember that food (including water) is the most immediate of these.

This writer is relentlessly optimistic, and a relentless realist. I offer these thoughts and suggestions in the spirit of preparedness, in the hope and expectation that your preparations will never be needed. That said, if they are needed at some point and you have not prepared, you will be in deep trouble. Questions and comments should be directed to ISG. An editor will forward questions and I will respond.

I wish you all the best!

Barry V.

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