Getting watering help: A cistern, rainwater barrels, and a pump

Here in central Texas, our county-supplied water stinks. Literally. It smells of chlorine and it tastes like salt. If you water your potted plants with too much fossil water like this, you get salt deposits on the outsides of your clay pots. Rain, on the other hand, is pure and good. When we have watered with our tap water and then seen what rain can do, it's obvious what the plants prefer. During their main phase of green growth in early spring, a good rain will produce overnight results.

For that reason (and to conserve water in this southern state, natch), we invested in a 1,500-gallon cistern when we moved here. Unfortunately, the cistern is about as tall as our one-story house, which means that to catch rainwater runoff from our roof we can't really raise it up to increase the water pressure flowing the 200 feet or so out to our garden. The house is actually situated on slightly lower ground than our garden, so that water also has to travel uphill to reach it. We all know how much water loves to travel uphill.

Last year I read a great little book called The No-Work Garden, full of gardening tips for the lazy (or just plain busy) gardener. It recommended using rainwater barrels to help move water around, catching the rain in downspouts or using hoses to siphon from one to the next. We loved the idea, and quickly learned that some cities in our region actually provide these at low cost to residents to help encourage water conservation. But not ours. It took us a while to find 50-gallon barrels to use to help move water to our garden, but we finally found a facility a short drive from us that distributes chemicals (nonhazardous) and saves the drums to sell for $3-5 apiece. We bought about six to use as homemade barrel composters and rainwater movers. Then we got busy.

Last week (finally) we set up a few water barrels. We put one midway between the cistern and the garden. We put another at the foot of the first raised bed and the final one between the first and second sets of raised beds. The idea is that once the hoses leading between them are full, the water will naturally siphon from one to the next and we will have free-flowing water from the final barrel.

We bought a submersible water pump just for good measure, and to help with the initial (and no doubt periodic) filling of the barrels. We used the pump to fill the first barrel, which we siphoned into the second, and so on. It worked fine except the seal on the barrels' 2" openings (there are two in the top of each barrel) had to be stuffed with something to keep the water flowing through the next hose rather than just overflowing the barrel. Even then we had some leaks, so we are working on developing a tight-fitting seal to increase pressure and reduce water loss. Our only complaint so far is that the $60 pump was on sale for $50 when we bought it and now it's down to $40. I could have used a couple more bags of garden soil!

Hopefully next week the whole system will be operational and we can set up our old driplines to irrigate our plants with rain water at the ground level. We can still expect good rain for a while (keeping our cistern at full capacity as well as keeping our plants watered) but we are trying to get this all set up before it gets hot and dry in May. We have had to haul our water to the garden before and that can take a lot of time and muscle.

We'll keep you posted on all of this water tech as we get it functioning. A simple drip system can be set up without too much expense and pay great dividends in plant vitality and lower water costs.


Anonymous said...

Did you buy the pump through Amazon? They will refund the difference if an item goes on sale within 30 days. The sites below track that for you automatically; I always use one of them when I shop at Amazon.


Jeremiah McNichols said...

Thanks for the tip! We'll check into it.

Seffliva said...

This "Getting watering help: A cistern, rainwater barrels, and a pump" was so cool! We also conserve water using rainwater barrels. Thanks for sharing.

pressure washer hose

Anonymous said...

This is something I think more homes and gardens should do, particularly considering it's sustainable benefits. Plus it doesn't take a lot to source some Water Feature Pumps and barrels. I just think many worry about the time and expertise in the initial set up.