Seasonal Storms and Water Conservation

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As I have been thinking about my hydroponics project, the greenhouse, and hydroculture projects, one thing kept coming up that I just couldn't reason away: I live in a semi-arid desert. And despite how many businesses in Utah seem to think, water conservation is very important. After all, hydroponics can't work without water, and a lot of it.

So, as I started my seedlings (I now have two artichokes sprouting ^_^), I started to think about this task. How would I be able to limit the amount of water I use, or more specifically, how can I limit the amount of clean water from the tap? After all, that's the water that costs money, and is available for general consumption.

Well, I began already by limiting the amount of lawn that I have. The lawn was dying anyway, because of a poor root system development. This isn't necessarily a problem with the type of lawn, just that the watering that it has experienced was daily watering, instead of deep watering, with at least a day in between. When I started to limit the water system with the sprinkler (and after the system broke down), the lawn started to die. So, I needed to replace the lawn.

But I started by cutting out a significant amount of lawn space, and placing down a fabric barrier and bark. I also have some desert plants growing in relatively barren areas of the yard, so watering in those areas are very limited. It's worked so far, but there is still a lot more work to go into the project.

Regardless, this doesn't fix the problem with the hydroponic system. That's going to require a lot of water, and I'm not sure I will be able to make that available without going over the limit set by the municipal water department for each household. So I started thinking about water in general, and how water was utilized before indoor plumbing.

One thing that has gone out of style for a while, but my grandparents had for quite some time, were rain barrels. Yes, they had their gutters funnel into barrels, and would then use the barrels to water their garden. It was very seasonal (particularly in Utah), but it managed to keep enough water for the garden between storms.

So, I thought I would give it a shot. Now, the first step was to find a place for the barrels. I set up two 55-gallon drums that previously held cranberry juice (available at Smith and Edwards near Ogden for $15 each), and set my rain gutter drains into the barrels. I did this on Saturday, thinking that it may be useful sometime in the next couple weeks.

Well, that night, there was a nice rain storm. From those two gutters, I got almost 100 gallons of water (one was full to overflowing, the other was almost full). This is because only half of the back side of the house drains into that gutter. So the rain collection method was a complete success, and very efficient. I now have plenty of water to last for at least a couple of weeks with regular watering.

But it also presents a problem. As anyone who lives by standing water knows, mosquitoes can breed like crazy, and pass on viruses, such as the West Nile virus. While I didn't think I would have to worry about the problem so soon, with the recent storm it has become apparent that I will need to take action.

The first step would be to add some light oil to the water. Because oil floats on the surface, and if it's significantly thick enough, it can smother any larvae trying to breathe. Then I need to build a lid that both secures the drain into the barrel, let's air out, allows for dipping or pumping for watering, but also presents a barrier for mosquitoes to get in and out. And finally, as an alternative, I can add some fish (koi or goldfish) to the barrels to eat any insects that find their way into them. It all comes down to what may be the most fun and economical.

The major plus side to this is that if the barrels need to be refilled, I can set it up to collect the rain water from the roof of the greenhouse, when it is completed. There are a lot of potential options there, now that I have found a reasonable way to manage the water situation for my garden.

If anyone else has some suggestions on how to collect water, feel free to let me know! I'd be happy to hear them.