The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Planning to hoard water

Cattle eating hay

Even just a couple of miles down the road in a less exposed location, mud season is still very real. But up here on our ridge, the soil is bone dry. Clearly, we're going to have to get our irrigation setup working sooner rather than later.

Water meter

To Mark's joy (no jury-rigging solutions out of baling twine and shoestrings!) and my disgust (chlorine, fluoride, energy-intensive, money-squeezing, limited supply!), we're on city water in our new location. I can't recall exactly how much we're allowed to use each month for the base rate --- I think 500 or 600 gallons? So far, we're using about half that, but gardens are thirsty beasts.

Daffodil quick hoops

So we're starting to brainstorm the best solution. The first step will be gutters...but where should we channel the precious off-flow? I go back and forth between spending some cash to build as big a pond as we can fit at the edge of our yard, creating an in-ground cistern out of concrete, or just going the plastic storage tank route. I'm all ears if anyone has first-hand results of any of those options!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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275 gallon bulk tank above ground will not require a pump to water with, if you use and in ground tank you need to add the expense of a pump
Comment by Sean Tue Mar 20 08:38:37 2018

Besides the short-term rain barrels, if they are mosquito-proof, I'd say, to figure out how to use your sink and washingmachine gray water (if soapy water is useable).

And maybe you need to put one of your raised beds on the N or E side of the trailer, since this will help the more-shaded ground from drying out as much.

Last, I'd really make sure your raised beds are not too high off the ground, since I guess this, too, dries the soil more.

Or maybe you can even plant some taller perennials on the S and W sides of your raises beds?

I think ponds do evaporate in high heat, even if they are shaded.

Comment by Tue Mar 20 09:16:57 2018

Another possibility to consider would be making a ferrocement tank. Lots of good videos on YouTube available (as well as books).

Could also be combined with small-scale aquaculture to provide a little additional boost of nutrients.

Another possibility is to check with the state department of agriculture/conservation to see if there are any resources to help build a pond. In some states, there are cost-share programs which could help reduce the expenses.

Plastic degrades over time and I'd be worried about chemicals from the plastic leaching into the water -- especially if the plastic is exposed to UV light.

Comment by Anonymous Tue Mar 20 09:39:12 2018
Plastic! 'Disposable' totes can be found for free or virtually free. I think that is what another is suggesting. They are about 275 gallons. Often, they will have a metal crib or frame around them. They are portable, cheap, easy, effective and you'll be changing your garden setup as time goes on. You can have one near each 'necessary' area. Ponds are a permanent pain in the butt, in my experience. Cheers!
Comment by Tim Inman Tue Mar 20 09:58:47 2018
I agree with Sean - water tanks are the way to go as you can position them where you want them and then, using only gravity feed, can irrigate your garden. Don't just buy one, however. You need at least two and three will probably be even better. Also, I understand that the plastic the tanks are made of eventually will degrade if kept in strong sunlight. My neighbor has these and he throws an old blanket he got from the thrift store over the tank to keep it from absorbing too much sun.
Comment by Nayan Tue Mar 20 10:21:40 2018
this is near Athens Oh? Ohio gets lots & lots of rain in spring almost like a monsoon season but Summer can get pretty hot and some longer spans of no rain. Is there any river/creek in area or too high up?
Comment by Jim Tue Mar 20 11:14:22 2018
A few years back (or more?) Mother Earth News had an article about just "storing" your gutter water in the ground right where your garden is - their position was that during hot and dry months, the plants will still be able to access water that soaked in during the rainy season when you directed your gutter fall into the garden area. They sounded convincing but I was never gutsy enough to try it.
Comment by Roz Tue Mar 20 16:01:59 2018
Sorry if I missed something. Weren’t you going to try drilling your own well? I’ve been thinking about trying that myself. Was hoping to see how yours worked out.
Comment by Heath Tue Mar 20 16:03:10 2018

Taking a systems approach, a couple of different approaches suggest itself.

Probably the best solution would mean to modify the soil to retain more water. This would be a one-time investment but would be relatively low on maintenance compared to a water system. Maybe try to create terra preta, or adding a layer of waterproof clay beneath the growing beds.

If you want to capture and store water, the question is where the water comes from. Run-off from the roof will be relatively clean, but is your roof surface large enough for the needs of your garden? Such clean water could be stored in secondhand IBC's like you've done before.

Run-off from the land will contain soil, so it would probably silt up a reservoir over time. That would mean you need a reservoir that can be easily cleaned. Preferably with power equipment like a backhoe, because shovelling a cubic yard of silt out of a reservoir is easier said than done. A pond (lined with clay) is probably a good solution there. You would lose some water through evaporation, though.

A cistern (beneath the frost line) would be a good solution to prevent evaporation and deliver usable water year-round. However, building a good waterproof concrete cistern is not easy. Normal factory concrete contains more water than necessary for the hydration reaction, leading to a network of small channels in the concrete.1 You need to take special precautions to make a waterproof concrete construction2, but it is possible.

Hence the popularity of (rotation moulded) thermoplastic tanks for water systems. Since these are generally buried underground, degradation in sunlight and destruction by freezing are not an issue. But access is limited to a manhole or two, so cleaning out silt/deposits would be a heck of a job. Also, such a plastic tank could probably be damaged by a shovel, so you'd have to be somewhat careful with it. Realistically, if you want to store the run-off from your land in a cistern you'd probably want to build a settling pond to catch silt before the water goes into a cistern.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Mar 20 16:59:00 2018
If you have rolling topography on your property, have you considered using swales to hold rainwater? It can change the microclimate significantly in a short time (2-3 years?). It would require some initial effort to build the infrastructure; I have a friend who did this (and dug a pond) on their 8 acres in central Kentucky - they've reduced erosion and are able to keep most of the water that falls on their land..
Comment by Rhonda from Baddeck Tue Mar 20 23:40:41 2018

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