Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ongoing Saga of the Rain Tank

Every gardener I know sings the same tune this time of year - there's just not enough time and daylight to do everything we want or need to do. Amending soil, pruning, putting out transplants, cleaning up winter's leftovers - just the maintenance could overwhelm a fainthearted person. But we gardeners are a sturdy lot. Bring it on! We do all that and more! No wonder I sleep better this time of year .... And, I can't wail and moan about not having enough time to keep up. I look at other garden blogs (around midnight on nights there's not enough moonlight to garden by) and see the standard everyone else sets - they somehow manage to build and maintain amazing gardens, keep up with regular posts on absolutely breathtaking blogs, and probably look fabulous and sweat-free while getting it all done.
At my house, there's lots of sweat and incomplete tasks. Near the top of the to-do list is getting the rain tank hooked up before the rainy season has passed me by. Having the tank delivered before I was ready to hook it up was part of my plan. It forces this job to the top of the list when you see this 7 foot tall tank lurking around the corner of the house. My last post was about the day the tank was delivered, and today I'll cover the tasks we've gotten done so far.

Although I was sad to pronounce it dead and see it go, the oleander had developed a fatal virus that "burned" its leaves and left it lifeless. We'd been giving it lots of extra love and attention since moving into the house, but finally realized it was time. Not only that, it was right where we wanted to install the rain tank. It may have been lifeless above ground, but it had an amazing root system that required days to defeat.

With the oleander stump removed, we needed to provide a level pad on which to place the tank. This part of the yard slopes, so we decided to build a frame to keep the soil from washing away. How many of you ever bought a bag of "topsoil" only to wonder how anyone could bag and sell that awful stuff? Well, we found a perfect use for it. We used it to build up inside the frame. At about $1.20 for a half cubic foot - it's much cheaper than the $3.00 bags of pea gravel we are also using. We used the topsoil to build up to about an inch and a half from the top of our wooden frame, then topped off with the pea gravel and levelled it. We used bagged product rather than having a load delivered as it was easier for us old folks to manage the bags. Above, Brady checks the first layer out and pronounces it ready for the pea gravel. After pouring on the pea gravel, I smoothed it out and checked it with a level.

Next step is getting guttering installed. I've gotten bids on 4" and 6" guttering with screens and with the solid leaf guards.  Know ahead of time there will be some ongoing cleaning required with screens, but the cost is about half of the systems with solid guards. And, although smaller widths are available, 6" guttering is usually recommended to handle heavy downpours without loss. The "helmets" or "leaf shields" aren't entirely necessary when the water is just being used in landscape applications. They do cut down dramatically on the amount of gravel that is washed into the gutter, but the "first flush" pipe gives you an opportunity to get rid of most of what works its way towards the tank. It's a pipe installed in the downward flow of water from the gutter that must fill up before water can move on toward the collection tank. It has a removeable cap that allows you to drain the debris out from time to time, including gravel from a composite roof or bird poop or leaves and organic gunk that work their way into the system.

When I was taking the rainwater harvesting training, we were actually making some of the parts as they couldn't easily be purchased in the US - things like the transition piece from the rectangular guttering to round PVC piping for downspouts running into collection tanks. Australia is way ahead of the United States in this area. However, most guttering companies in Austin now carry prefabricated transitions in both metal and PVC made specifically for rainwater harvesting applications. All three companies I've contacted have done lots of rainwater projects and knew what I needed without me telling them. They also worked into their bids a plan for the possibility of adding additional barrels or tanks in the future. They've done this enough to learn it's addictive. How could saving money on water bills or having enough and better quality water for your plants be a bad thing?

By the way, if this size tank scares you, Corinne at Triple S says they also have smaller options:  a green tank that holds approx. 1164 gallons that's 53" tall and 86" wide, a green tank that holds 556 gallons that's 64" tall by 48" wide, and a green tank that holds 319 gallons that's 52" tall and 46" wide.  I mention the color "green" because the tanks are also made by another manufacturer in black.  The capacities and specs are slightly different.  She says to feel free to call her at 512.243.0679 if you need any other information.  And, don't hesitate to start with just a barrel.  Many cities, including Austin, have reduced cost rain barrels available.  Really, like I said, how can it be a bad thing - even on a smaller scale!  

Enough for today. I'm hoping to have this installed soon and start catching those pennies from heaven. That phrase has certainly taken on new meaning with frequent droughts and climate change, hasn't it? Austin has lots of gardening fairs, garden tours, and gardening seminars filling the calendar in March and April. Then it's time for Spring Fling! Have to remember to make time for playin' outside! Let me hear from you - what's pushing its way to the top of your to-do list?


Anonymous said...

I think it is really a lovely thing that you are doing with your rainwater harvesting tank. I have enjoyed reading your blog

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

My MG group is way into the rainwater harvesting thing. We have installed on demonstration system in Forney and are looking into two more sites. My friend and I use one at our greenhouse. After the drought the year before last, we just have to be better stewards of our water resources.

Gina said...

Yay! I was wondering when we were gonna start working on getting that baby installed! what's on my to-do list? removing all mature shrubs from my front garden, getting a new patio, and remodeling my bathroom.

Pam/Digging said...

I may be as excited as you are to see the process of installing your cistern. Thanks for another installment. Can't wait to see it all hooked up.

Brianna said...

Hi, V. I found your blog on Pam's site. I'm enjoying reading about your rainwater harvesting project. :)

Rapidly pushing its way to the top of my to-do list is replacing the wood fence around our backyard. It's in really poor condition, and several other projects hinge on having it done.

Annie in Austin said...

Hi VBDB - your bag-by-bag method is what Philo and I do, too. The pad looks good and stable.

It's very interesting to see the project in process - now just hope we get some rain for you to harvest!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

mike said...

Very nice job! I have a couple of 55gal drums with some hose fittings that I use. It is such a good thing to try and save anything we can to reuse even rain water. Keep up the good work.

vbdb said...

Mike (and others) - where did you find the drums, tanks, or barrels you are using? Did you recycle something or get city issued rain barrels? Finding a good source (i.e., good product and price) for this part of the system can be a big deal. Would love to know where you got yours.

Diana said...

Wow. I am in awe of this enormous project you have undertaken. I can't imagine your feeling like someone else is getting more done in their gardens. This is HUGE! Thanks for the update and the great pictures. I can empathize with your oleander funeral. I had to remove two giant ones last Fall and was crushed. And because they were so big, the rest of the bed had to be leveled, too. So sad. You can peek at my Sept 27 & 28 posts to see mine. I tried in vain for a long time to save them...kinda like they are your pets, aren't they?

Bonnie said...

So I wonder whether you had it all hooked up for all the rain today. Or were you watching out the window and cursing?

Thanks for the next chapter of the rain barrel saga. Great stuff. Like a harlequin romance for gardeners!

vbdb said...

I'm disappointed and cursing that the guttering isn't installed yet and catching all of this rain. These days doesn't it seem we always wonder when we'll see it again, or if it'll ever stop - never a nice balance?

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