Monday, April 28, 2008

900 and Counting

Amid threats of tornadoes, lightening strikes, and hail, we got about an inch of rain over the past few days. From that ... drum roll please ... we managed to collect about 900 gallons of cloud juice. * The gutters and pipes to the rainwater tank didn't sag or leak (not that we expected them to), the water went where we wanted it, and as an added bonus, we didn't get hit by the hail.

Also, as I was saying to MSS at Zanthan Gardens, now we understand what a friend meant when he said, "Oh, you got the small one!" when he saw our 1660 gallon tank. This is addictive! The clouds give us a little free and we're hooked. Given that Austin averages 32 to 36 inches of rain per year, however, our little lot doesn't have enough room for tanks to catch all of it. Herein lies the dilemma of the suburban rainwater harvester. In most areas, rainfall occurs seasonally. Many of us don't have room for enough storage to catch the entire rainy season harvest and be able to last through times of drought. When we decided to install our tank, I had no idea that not only would I learn how to install the system, I'd also get a lesson in being content with the difference this amount of capture will make. My current plan is to make a pitcher of Texas Martinis, go sit by the pond, listen to the waterfall splashing, and practice being content.

*To figure how much you'd collect, you need to know that one inch of rain on a 1000 sq. foot catchment area yields roughly 600 gallons. We aren't using our full (oddly shaped, irregular) roof surface and had to guess at our total catchment area. One of the best free sources of information on rainwater harvesting in Texas, including average annual rainfall, is The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting (do an online search and the entire manual can be downloaded at no cost.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Choice

My husband has no idea, but he's about to be very happy that Tim was "right". We stand to save a lot of money; because as far as I'm concerned, my local nursery went out of business this week.
I've made a tough decision to stop being a customer there - the place where I'd drop by to visit on the way home and find myself spending $50 when I really didn't need anything, the place I'd find myself sometimes 3 times a day when I was in the middle of a gardening project, and the place I'd go at least once a week even if nothing special was going on in the garden. I could always convince myself that something, some plant or pot or sculpture, was irresistable. But resisting is the current plan. Why the drama? Because the owner was rude to me. Details don't really matter. Technically, he was right. I parked where they said not to. He yelled at me. My feelings are hurt. If he cared about customers, he wouldn't have said what he did in the way he said it. He most certainly doesn't care if he keeps me as a customer. So I'm responding the only way I feel is appropriate.
I used to be in retail. I was a manager for Williams-Sonoma. And, I've been in the restaurant business most of my adult life. So, I really understand the complexities of customer relationships. When you're part of the staff, you sometimes feel like the customers can be demanding and unreasonable. As a customer, I try to remember what that feels like and be respectful and appreciative of people in service industry jobs. I don't expect special treatment, I wait my turn, I try not to bore them with too many stories. And, I always try to shop local.
So there were a lot of choices in this little gardening melodrama - the choice to say things, how they were said, what was really important, and how to react. There's also the choice of whether to shop local or drive to where they're nice to you; whether to save on petrol and support the local economy, or go across town or 15 miles to the north. Whatever else may come of it, it made enough of an impression on me that I hope I'll stop and think twice before I feel the need to "be right" about something.
No pictures in my post today, just ranting. Although I do have to tell you that I have two baby cardinals in a nest just outside my bedroom window. I was afraid the mother had abandoned it during the installation of our guttering. Instead, she and her mate kept their vigil and hatched the two eggs. In the midst of my trivial human drama, something that really matters is happening - and all's right in my little garden.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The First Crop

Spring Fling 2008 was better than anyone could have imagined - the knowledge and generosity of my fellow garden bloggers overwhelmed me to the point of silence. Anyone who knows me is impressed by that! It has been captured so well on other sites, I've decided to leave it at that. Sometimes something is so good, my feeble attempts to describe it only diminish it. Check out Pam's "Digging'" for info, pictures, and links. It was perfect. Enough said.

It surprises me how many people are tracking the progress of my rain harvesting tank installation. Just for them - here's the big unveiling! The morning after Spring Fling, we went to the local big box and got the PVC piping and fittings to connect the tank.

If you're not used to doing a lot of projects with PVC, I encourage you to gently connect all the pieces while you're there at the store to test for fit. They always have short sections of piping for sale. Assemble joints and use one of those short sections to test everywhere you think straight lengths of pipe will be. Four inch and three inch inside diameters begin to look a lot alike when faced with a wall of white plastic. We went armed with the downspout adapter installed by our guttering company. In the picture below, it's the rectangular piece with a round outlet at the bottom of the spout. It's screwed on, not riveted, so it can be removed to go on your walkabout with you.

In this shot, you can see the top of the tank. There is a lid that screws on over the drop-in basket, but we chose to leave it open for now. The removable strainer basket catches leaves and anything that makes it past the "first flush". Many people just cut a hole the size of the pipe and let the water flow directly into the tank. As the water in this type of installation is only for landscape purposes, that works fine. We just didn't want to cut a hole until we were certain we had everything the way we want it. I'm making a little wooden "roof" (that looks a lot like a birdhouse) to sit over the opening to deflect leaves and protect the basket from falling twigs.

So, what's a "first flush"? It's the stretch of pipe that has to fill up before water backs up and begins to flow into your tank. The picture above shows ours, which will hold about 8 gallons before water flows off to the tank (through that pipe to the left at the very top of the picture). Gravel, bird droppings, and other junk is washed down by the initial rainfall, and settles in the pipe. It's also possible to install a valve with a float in this section - it seals off the opening when the first flush pipe is full. But in landscape applications, it's not really necessary. Just remember if you live in a city that gives rebates on rainwater harvesting systems (like Austin), you are required to include a first flush. At the very end of the pipe, there's a screw on cap you remove to release the first flush water into the garden. Lots of people loosely attach that cap so it drips a little all the time and doesn't really have to be opened completely. Just be sure it's snug enough to contain the water during a rain.
Now, how to get the water OUT of the tank. The piece shown below is screwed into the opening at the bottom of the tank to adapt the opening size to the opening of the valve:

A heavy duty valve like the one shown is necessary to hold up to the pressure of all that water. It goes on next:

The next fitting, an adapter, will size the opening down to your pump hose or a regular garden hose. We'll soon be installing a Grundfos pump that has a 1" pipe connection; but for now, we're putting in a 5/8" adapter to connect a hose faucet.

Then this ...

All assembled, it looks like this:
I actually have the hose faucet outlet pointed sideways now so I don't bang my knuckles on it when turning the handle on the big valve. This picture was taken when it still pointed down ( before I banged my knuckles.)

I didn't tell you before, but the deciding factor in chosing a guttering company was this little design element shown above. We have one of those crazy rooflines - little sections interrupted by windows and several different levels. Our salesman had enough experience in rainwater harvesting, he was able to suggest things like this to capture that little extra bit of rain. The installers crafted this out of a section of downspout. It catches a valley in the roofline that otherwise just would have been wasted. Listen for things like this that prove they understand what you want and are not just delivering their canned sales pitch. Luckily, all three of my salesmen were well informed. It was a hard choice.

Yesterday we got our test rain - a downpour of about 1/2 inch in a short period. All the parts stayed stuck together, even though we didn't use any adhesives. I was like a kid seeing snow for the first time - out there listening to the drops ping down into the big tank. My husband wanted to turn on the tap, but I didn't want to waste a drop. Now, if I can just get a good night's rest. I kept dreaming of all the little lizards who might be trapped by a sudden storm. Nature lovers! We're a mess, aren't we?

Purple Martin Party Time!

Travis Audubon hosted a Purple Martin Colony visit this past Saturday next to the historic home of Laura Joseph.  Laura started...