Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

February update

March 3, 2016

It seems safe to assume that summer is almost over, with less than three weeks to the autumn equinox, although 30º+ temperatures are predicted for the next week.

I added up my rainfall figures on the calendar and the total came to 5 mm. Surely there was more than that! Melbourne’s average for February is 46 mm. I can see the effects, in the dead and dying plants in the garden and also in the bush. I only water food plants, nothing else. The big 9000 litre tank is down to half and I’ve stopped using it, because it’s my drinking water (I won’t drink mains water with its load of toxic fluoride). The 2 smaller 4500 litre tanks are being topped up from the mains supply. I do this because it’s easier to water from them with a low pressure sprinkler than it is to water directly from the mains where the pressure is so variable.

I’ve been more than happy with yields from the garden this season.

Strawberries are still going strong in their wicking buckets, although the fruits are smaller now. They’ve been bearing for at least 6 months.

Cherries. The tree is in it’s second year and I got many more than last year. I can’t seem to find a photo of those. I expect most of them didn’t make it into the house.

Tomatoes have almost finished and I stopped weighing them when I reached 25 kilos. I cleaned some self-sown parsley out of one of the wicking boxes and topped it up with fresh compost. A few tomatoes germinated and have grown quickly :

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I’ve staked them and might get a few more fruit before they succumb to the cold. No idea which variety. It will be a surprise!

Pears. I’ve been really happy with yields from the two trees. A Bartlett with a Josephine for pollination—both planted in the same hole. I’d let them get too big (visions of huge old pear trees dripping with fruit) and so too big to net and the birds/possums have always got them all. Last year I cut them back really hard, so now they’re not much taller than I am. They flowered and set fruit, but instead of netting them (my biggest net was over the apple), I put the little apple pouches on each fruit. It has worked and nothing has attacked the fruit :

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I checked out Louis Glowinski’s book on fruit growing to see when I should pick them (pears ripen inside, off the tree) and the trick is to grab the hanging fruit and pull it up into a horizontal position. If it’s ready to pick the stem will snap at the abcission layer (the layer of weaker cells at the top of the stem). So each day I go down and tweak all the fruit. It’s working and this is the yield so far from the Bartlett :

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The fruits of the Josephine are smaller and maturing a bit later, but so far I have these :

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Pepino. There are huge fruits forming on the pepino in the wicking box. This box is at ground level so the wire is to keep hungry rabbits at bay :

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Beans. A slow start when most of the early-sown seed rotted, but it’s picked up and I’m eating beans with every evening meal now. Beans are one thing I never buy (along with tomatoes), so I really look forward to bean season.

Cucumbers. Lots of success with those and there are 16 jars of bread & butter pickles in the fridge. There were more cucumbers than I could eat fresh and I discovered that the chooks loved them sliced down the middle. They eat out all the seeds and flesh and leave only the paper-thin skins.

Berries. Raspberries and blackberries fruited for the first time and although the yields weren’t large, it means two additions to the diversity of food from the garden.

Apricots. A reasonable yield from one seedling-grown tree and about a dozen from the named variety, Moor Park (only in it’s first season). These are the apricots (and cherry plums from the self-sown tree) :

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Zucchini. A disaster. I got two. I pulled them out early. Male and female flowers just didn’t manage to co-ordinate themselves.

Pumpkins. Pulled out most of those, too. They were in a hugelkultur bed where the underlying wood hadn’t broken down and the ants kept bringing up the sand around them. It doesn’t hold water and I couldn’t keep enough water up to them to maintain growth.

But….there’s still one left in a recycling crate and it’s doing well. It’s the variety called Naranka Gold which is commercially grown exclusively for Coles supermarkets. I grew it last year but it went in late and didn’t produce any fruit. This year it’s climbing all over the wood heap (the leaves are meant to be that variegated yellow colour; it’s not a deficiency) :

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and hidden under the leaves is this :

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Quinces. The quince tree was grown from seed. From memory I think I planted three seedlings close together and they have all suckered into a large clump. It’s huge now and has flowered and fruited each year. I don’t really bother about it and last year the parrots got all the fruit. This year, since it’s next to the pear trees, I put apple socks on some of the quinces as well, so it looks like I will get a few :

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The remains of a couple that didn’t get ‘socked’ :

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Under-ripe quinces! Bleahh! Parrots apparently have no taste buds!

I’ve had more problems with roots entering the wicking tubs. Regular readers might remember this post where a grapevine found its way into the drainage hole at the bottom of a tub. It happens because there are zillions of ants here. They bring the sandy soil up to the surface around the base of pots and because it’s moist around the drainage holes, roots slide their way in. I don’t notice because the base of the tub eventually gets part buried in the sand. But I did notice that there was one tub that I could never seem to keep moist even though I watered it every day. It was nowhere near the grape vine and over 10 meters from the nearest tree. I thought the plastic in the bottom was probably perforated and it wasn’t functioning as a wicking tub any more. It’s a 51 cm diameter tub and very heavy. There’s a capsicum in it at the moment. I yanked it forwards from the back and it came away from the ground easily. No root problems there, so I cleared away the sand from around the front. See that thing that looks like a giant worm :

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That’s a tree root that has come out of the soil, done a 360º about face and entered the tub! What a cheek! I cut it out and sniffed it. Eucalyptus! From now on all the wicking tubs will be raised up on bricks, well off the ground!

Around the middle of last year I was given a small pot with one sick-looking leaf in it. I think the owner thought I might be able to bring it back to life. The label said ‘turmeric’.  I was rapt. I’ve been wanting to grow turmeric for ages, but couldn’t find any greengrocer selling the rhizomes to plant. I tipped it out of the pot. The ordinary roots looked white and healthy; there was no sign of a rhizome. I hoped it wasn’t sick but just heading into winter dormancy, so I potted it into a slightly larger pot, left it in the polyhouse and kept it just moist.

In spring, to my delight, a little green shoot appeared. I fed it some Dynamic Lifter and began to water it regularly. The green shoot grew and another appeared. Eventually I repotted it into a much larger pot. This is it now :

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If it grows any bigger there won’t be room for both of us in the polyhouse. Even if I wanted to put it outside, I can’t lift the pot. I’m hoping it’s making lots of turmeric rhizomes because I’ve promised to share with the original owner. Has anyone grown it away from its normal tropical home? Should I put it outside for the autumn/winter? I thought it probably wouldn’t like a low-humidity Melbourne summer, that’s why I left it in the polyhouse and misted the leaves every day. Here’s hoping for some nice rhizomes I can dry and crush.

My blueberry seedlings are growing and reaching the stage where I want to put them in their final growing spots. There are four left out of the six I had in October :

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I bought some large plastic pails and drilled a drainage hole a third of the way up from the bottom (so they’ll be wicking pots) and used them this season for tomatoes :

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They worked well, so I think I will use them for the blueberries. Not sure whether I’ll put them on the deck (it’s looking like a forest up there now), or stand them in the garden somewhere. They’ll be too tall for the rabbits and they’ll be easy to get a net over when they’re fruiting. One thing I’m going to do is buy an acid potting mix (for azaleas/rhododendrons) and use that, as blueberries like an acid soil and the chook poo compost I use for veggies tends to be alkaline.

Eggs. Bonny is still going strong with an egg every second day. She’s been laying constantly for just on a year now; surely she will take a break soon. She’s full of beans, eating like a horse and charges at me, pecking my foot, every time I go into the run. The other three stopped laying and moulted after Christmas. I’m not expecting any more from them until spring.

Well, I think I’ve just about covered most things. All I need now is some rain. A lot.

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Deciding what to let go

January 7, 2015

Every spring I plant seeds for as many plants as I can, in the fond hope that I will have bumper crops that I can harvest, eat, share with friends and preserve the excess.

And every summer we get hit with more and more hotter days and less and less rainfall. And I know I’m going to have to let some plants die, because I can’t keep the water up to all of them.

The wicking boxes are fine. They’re near the house and near mains water taps. They don’t need watering every day, except when the temperature gets into the 30’s. I can manage them.

The area I’ve developed as a food forest is ‘down the back’, over halfway down a one hectare property, 75 metres and more from the house. Also in that area are ‘garden beds’—80 cm wide circles of wire (to keep the rabbits out), filled with compost, in a line below two alternating lines of fruit trees. There are 35 of those. They were the original vegetable beds, before I learned about wicking boxes and before I did the permaculture design course and learned about zone planting. The whole food forest area is on a slope and the soil is not the native sandy soil, but introduced heavy clay which was brought in by a previous owner, after taking out all the sand and selling it. In other words, it’s fill.

This area gets watered by gravity from a 9000 litre tank next to the house. Because of the compacted nature of the soil, the water doesn’t penetrate. If I put water in too fast, it just runs off. So I use a fine spray on the end of a hose held up by a hose-holding spike. The circular vegetable beds each have a circle of 13 mm tubing with two fine spray heads attached which criss-cross each circle. The hose from the tank can connect to each one in turn and water the circle.

I’ve dug swales behind most of the fruit trees on the slope and I fill them from the mains regularly in summer (if I filled them from the tank I’d empty it in no time). There are (I think) about 25 major fruit trees and several scattered redcurrants. Some, e.g. the loquat and the quince and the 3 nectarines, don’t have swales and don’t get any water in summer, either. There are scattered clumps of asparagus in the food forest which likewise don’t get any summer water.

Alongside the path which leads to the food forest are three hugelkultur beds. At the moment, the first has pumpkins, rhubarb and asparagus, the second has zucchini and the last one has raspberries. I’ve just put in sprinklers to cover each bed and the water is gravity fed from the tank.

We had good rain in December and everything looked pretty good. Then we got hit with 40 C and high winds and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I had corn, some tomatoes and dill in the vegetable rings. I’ve managed to keep the corn going because it gets afternoon shade. The dill died, although I thought I’d been watering adequately and had put shade over it on the hot day. I’ve let the tomatoes die. They had early blight and weren’t doing well even before the heat. These were actually in a wicking box in one of the rings. They were in full sun for part of the day and I didn’t shade them. The soil was still wet :

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I pushed my cheese thermometer into the flesh of one. It read 36 C. It’s heartbreaking.

Today the forecast temperature was 35 C. I have the sprinkler from the tank going all day down the back. I’m trying to save another few raspberry plants down there and the four tamarillos. The tank was full a couple of weeks ago; now it’s below half. Oh, I can use the mains, but the pressure is so variable. I can get it right, go down later and find it’s reduced to a dribble. Walking up and down to keep adjusting it, in 35 degree heat is not for me.

I keep telling myself summer is only three months long and the really hot days are even less. But for how long? Climate change is happening faster than anyone thought. (Except for the Looney Tune we’ve got for a Prime Minister, and then it’s not happening at all !).

How long will it be before it will be impossible to grow food in summer? What will happen when oil runs out and the energy to pump water to households is no more? I thought I’d be pushing up daisies well before climate change got worse; now I’m not so sure.

Is it worth it? On days like today, I doubt it.

Storing water for the garden

October 10, 2014

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but some of my newer readers won’t have seen it so I’ve updated it for reposting. With summer on the way it’s worthwhile thinking about how to keep the water up to newly planted trees and seedlings.

Storing water for the home food garden is crucial for self-sufficiency and building resilience into our lives in the face of change. In a reticulated system, such as most of us have now, energy is needed to pump water to suburban homes. In the energy-scarce future that’s ahead of us, we can’t guarantee that we’ll always be able to turn on a tap and have water at our fingertips.

So….putting in water storage systems should be a priority. Much more so than the latest brand of plasma TV or the latest iPad.

It’s important to look at the cost of storing water per litre. Obviously, the bigger the tank, the cheaper the price (assuming the same material).  Our first tank, a 9,000 litre, cost about $1000, 15 years ago. Some years later, we bought two 4,500 litre tanks and they cost about $1000 each. Cost per litre for the first tank was about 11 cents. Twice that for the second tanks. Prices do rise, unfortunately.

Some years ago, when the drought was in full swing, Bunnings were selling 100 litre rainwater storage bins for $90. I saw several people buying them. I did a quick calculation—cost of water storage = 90 cents/litre. That’s a lot.

Yet I bought two black plastic 60 litre rubbish bins (Willow brand) for $20 ($9.98 each). That’s 120 litres at a cost of 17 c/litre. Quite a difference. It seems the people who bought the $90 bins didn’t stop to do any calculations or consider what else was available.

In fact I’ve bought many more Willow bins over the last few years. I must have a couple of dozen now. Here’s what you can do with them:

Turn the domed lid upside down and drill a small hole in the centre. The lid becomes a rainwater catchment:

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Put a bin (or several), in your veggie garden or beside a fruit tree, up on some bricks or a polystyrene box, for added height. Drill a hole in the side near the bottom and insert a length of 5 mm plastic tubing with an in-line tap. Open the tap and direct the water where you want it, when you want it. If there are water restrictions, with watering restricted to certain times of the day, you can use that time to simply fill up all your bins and then water when you want to. Better than standing and holding a hose for 2 hours.

This bin has two outlets, each with an in-line tap:

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You can make the tubing any length so that it can water widely spaced plants—great for watering newly planted fruit trees during their first summer. The taps let you adjust the flow rate.

Use the bins to make nutrient tea. Just toss weeds into the water and let them rot down. Comfrey makes a great nutrient tea. But keep the lid on the bin….it stinks!

I have a bin beside my water wicking boxes with a plastic jug in it. Handy for adding water down the access tube or watering in newly planted seedlings. I also have one in the polyhouse filled with water plus comfrey tea, worm juice and seaweed fertiliser. Great for watering seeds and seedlings.

To stop mozzies getting in, just put a small pebble over the hole. I used to scoop the larvae out with a kitchen sieve until I took the lid off a bin one day and found a million drowned mozzies floating on the surface. The adults must have hatched, but couldn’t find their way out through the hole!

Always be on the lookout for extra water storage receptacles. Second-hand baths are great. I have two now. The first one I snaffled from somebody’s nature strip during a non-burnable rubbish collection. The second was a present from a friend who scrounged it from his local tip.

As well as storing water, I use the baths to grow azolla, the floating water fern. It’s rich in nitrogen. If it’s allowed to completely cover the surface, mozzies aren’t a problem. I can scoop off handfuls for the worm farm or for mulch and it soon grows back to cover the surface. The chooks love it, too. With a bath, you can put some timber slats or a sturdy wire frame over the top and put seedling pots on it. When you water them, the excess water drains back into the bath and doesn’t go to waste. My baths usually become full of tadpoles.

When you water from stored water containers  (providing you put them in the right place), you can let gravity do the job for you. It’s a no-brainer to put in a tank and then an electric or petrol-driven pump to get the water where you want it. That energy won’t always be around, but gravity will never go away!

Water: tank vs tap

August 7, 2014

I’ve been drinking tank water (and cooking with it), since we put in our tank 14 years ago, although we do have town water on tap also. The tap water gets used for washing, because the tank isn’t plumbed to the house and there’s not enough of it to do everything.

The main reason for doing so is that fluoride is now added to our water supply. I did some research at the time, decided that it was a poison and that I didn’t want to put it into my body any more than was necessary (remembering though, the well-known saying that the ‘poison is the dose’).

I did some more research some time ago, because someone commented in a letter to the daily paper about a TV program on fluoridation, complaining that it was all up-market, feel-good stuff and the downsides weren’t mentioned. The writer said it accumulates in the body and that made me sit up and take notice. I hadn’t remembered that.

The jury still seems to be out on the benefits/problems with fluoride. Dentists are way in favour of it, my own included, but there are still many people who are against it. Not all countries fluoridate their water supplies. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on water fluoridation in Australia.

Getting back to that comment that ‘the poison is the dose’, makes me wonder:

  • what about people who drink a lot more water than others?
  • what about children and babies? They’d be getting a lot more fluoride relative to body weight than adults. Has that been considered?
  • what about elderly people, probably already coping with numerous co-morbidities. What’s the effect on them?
  • how rigorous is the quality control of the addition process?  (In Ipswich, Queensland, 12 months ago, a double dose of fluoride was accidently added to the city’s water supply).
  • if its only benefit is for dental health, what about people who no longer have their own teeth?

Another reason for walking away from town water supplies is that I just don’t agree that the government—any government—has the right to decide what I put into my body. That should be my choice and my choice alone. It’s one of the reasons why I want to produce as much of my own food as possible and why I’m such an avid reader of supermarket labels on the food I do have to buy.

I’m not going to put links here to pro/anti fluoride websites (and there are plenty); I think it’s better if you do your own research and make up your own minds. Let me know what you think in the comments box.

It concerns me, that for something as vital as water, we don’t have a choice.

Swales

March 19, 2014

Swales are a permaculture thing. A swale is a water-holding ditch dug on contour, usually on a slope but not always. The contour bit is very important. If you remember your high-school geography, a contour line on a map joins places at the same height above sea level. In a ditch dug on contour, water stays level in the ditch. Not on contour and it will run out the lowest end.

Huge rainfall events on a slope means water runs off faster than it can soak in. Swales trap the water and allow it to permeate slowly. Water permeates into the soil and facilitates plant growth where it would not be as successful otherwise. Remember the three S‘s of water harvesting: Slow; Store; Soak. Slow it down; store it; let it soak in.

When a swale is dug across a slope, the soil removed is mounded up on the low side of the slope and the mound is planted with suitable plants to hold the soil in place and provide a yield of some sort. In Australia, we call them swales and mounds; in the US they’re often referred to as berms (the mound) and basins (the ditch).

When we bought this property, I didn’t know anything about permaculture. The only spot that was cleared of natural bush was on a slope. The only spot in full sun. The only place to put a vegetable garden and fruit trees. Good drainage, I thought. Yes, but the soil had been introduced. The original sandy soil had been removed (and sold) by a previous owner and the site had been filled with clayey rubbish that water wouldn’t penetrate. If I’d only known—I would have had the whole site swaled and mounded before planting, and be in a far better position than I am now.

So I did a Permaculture Design Course, learned the hard way and had to retrofit. That meant digging individual swales behind each fruit tree, by hand.

The swale behind the orange. It holds about 80 litres of water:

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I remember the first major rain after digging the swales, dashing down the back in the pouring rain and being overjoyed to find each small swale full of water.

The swales saved the fruit trees during this past hot, dry summer. Once a week, I filled each of them a couple of times over with the hose.

I used an A-frame to mark out the contours. It’s only small, but just right for the size of the swales I’m digging. I wrote about how I made it here.

There’s an article about water harvesting & storage at the Permaculture Research Institute here.

If you’re a frog, water = sex

March 2, 2013

It didn’t take the frogs long to discover that that the first pool was full of water again and to come out of hiding for a bit of what you fancy.

And here’s the result. Those white spots floating on the surface are rafts of frog spawn:

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The only frog species calling is the Marsh Frog. There are two Marsh Frogs that could be in this area—the Spotted Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) and the Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni). I’ve seen one, but couldn’t tell whether it had short stripes or long spots.

To identify frogs, the male’s call is usually a dead giveaway, but in this case I can’t tell. My frog book* says the Spotted has a single short sharp call—’click’ or ‘plock’—similar to the sound  made when two stones are struck together. The Striped has a similar call—a ‘tock’ or ‘poc’. I’ve also seen it described as the sound made when two sticks are struck together. Stones? Sticks? To me it sounds like ‘bok’, so until further notice, I just call it the Bok Frog.

I’m sitting up in bed writing this on the laptop and they are bokking away like crazy down the back.

I love the look of the first pool since I cleared out all the water plants that had spread and taken over:

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I’ve started work on the second pool but the recent rain has part-filled it and I’ve only cleared around the dry edges. You can see the remains of the water plants on the right of the photo. They had completely taken over so that there was no water visible, even when full:

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The pool system consists of three pools. They’re in a line, one after the other and each one is slightly lower than the previous one. The first one is only ankle-deep, the second knee-deep and the third about thigh/waist deep. They’re at the rear of the property and apart from rainfall, are fed from the tank overflow. Most of the recent rain went into the tank, but now it’s full, all the roof water will be going into the pools, so I expect them to fill rapidly when it next rains. Water fills the first, then overflows into the second which overflows into the third. Except in very wet years, there’s virtually no overflow from the third pool as the soil is sandy clay and doesn’t hold water permanently. Most years they dry out in summer—a combination of soaking-in and evaporation.

The length of the whole system is about 50 metres and each pool is about 3-4 metres wide. I’m going to try and keep the water plants from invading in the future. The trick is to only grow plants around the edges that that (a) don’t have spreading rhizomes and (b) won’t grow in water.

* Frogwatch Field Guide to Victorian Frogs (Hero, Littlejohn & Marantelli).

Gravity watering systems

February 5, 2013

If you’ve put in a water tank (even though you may have town water), then you’ve increased your resilience to failure of the system and your degree of self-sufficiency goes up a notch.

So it makes no sense to use a fossil fuel dependant pump to get the water to where it’s needed.

Good permaculture design puts the tank at the highest point of the property and the food garden at the lowest (or at least, lower than the tank). That way the free energy of gravity is put to use, rather than unsustainable fossil fuels.

My three tanks are near the house. My original vegetable garden was 50 metres away, down a slight slope. There are fruit trees there also. It is being developed as a food forest. Most of my vegetables are now grown in wicking tubs and boxes close to the house (permaculture zone 1), but I still grow some in that original area. It was chosen because it was the only place free of large trees and hence the sunniest.

I have four hose lengths connected to the big (9000 litre) tank by the house, feeding the veggies and fruit trees in the lower area. I get good water pressure down there, even when the big tank is half full, as it was before last week’s rain. It’s full again now.

I’ve put together a few different sprinkler systems for use with the tank, using  13 mm polypipe and the myriad of spray jets, uprights and connectors that are stocked at any good garden centre.

The veggies down there are grown in wire circles 80 cm in diameter and 45 cm high, to keep the rabbits off. The original soil was too compacted to dig, so I’ve built up beds with compost inside the circles.

A circular sprinkler fits inside each ring:

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There are two small upright pieces (5 mm diameter), on opposite sides, with a quarter-circle spray head on top which points into the centre of the ring:

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The pressure is so great in this system that I have to have the gate valve on the tank almost closed, otherwise the water sprays way beyond where it’s needed.

This would also be a good system to use around a single, newly-planted tree.

When a wire ring is full of growth right to ground level, this system doesn’t work so well, as the water only impacts the edges of the crop, so I’ve made another sprinkler which I use attached to a hose-holding stake that pushes into the ground and it sprays over the top of the crop. A short length of tubing, with a stop at one end and a click-on hose connector at the other; a 5 mm upright tube with an in-line tap to vary the flow and a quarter-circle spray head on top. Very effective:

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Another very simple sprinkler is just a length of 13 mm tubing with a stop and hose connector and a series of small holes punched along its length. I usually put the holes in with a hot nail heated on the gas (held in pliers NOT fingers!):

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(Water doesn’t photograph very well). The tube can be any length you wish.

I bought this fascinating wibble-wobble sprinkler from Diggers. It’s been specially designed for use with tanks but it works equally well on town water systems:

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The central wobbly bit oscillates round and round throwing out little squirts of water in all directions as it does so. If this was a video, you could see it wobbling, but sorry, it isn’t so you can’t. Best to buy one and watch your own. I love watching it, it’s a great way of wasting time:

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Green Harvest also have them for sale.

Just a final tip. Most of the micro spray heads you see for sale are moulded plastic. Burrs in the moulding process can impact on the spray and make it irregular so some spots get missed.  It’s worth paying the extra money for brass spray heads if you can find them. They’re finely machined and give a nice regular spray without imperfections:

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Drought victims

January 31, 2013

This is was a feijoa:

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Admittedly I haven’t given it any water at all and for some reason (unknown), this is a very dry spot. Everything here is wilted and unhappy. I’m not too fussed about it because I have feijoas doing better, in other locations. Just look at this one, planted in the grey water line:

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It hasn’t been watered at all either, but gets a good soak every time I do a load of washing or have a shower.

This was a pepino:

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One thing I can say for certain about pepinos is that they won’t tolerate dryness. I’ve lost all three I had in a variety of places in the food forest.  It was only regular rainfall that kept them going. I deliberately let them go because they weren’t successful grown at ground level as the rabbits constantly chewed the fruit. I still have plants from struck cuttings and I’m going to put one in a wicking tub close to the house (perhaps even on the deck), where I can keep an eye on rabbit (& possum) predation and net if necessary (rabbits chewed through the net when I had them growing in the ground).

A sad patch of oregano:

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Again I’m not fussed if it dies. I have multiple patches of herbs throughout the garden and I’m only trying to keep one of each alive. It will be interesting to see if this one comes back following rain  (you DO remember rain don’t you?  Sorry Queenslanders, I only wish you could send some of your excess to Victoria!).

One good thing about the lack of rainfall is that the first and second of the three pools down at the rear of the property have dried right out. This didn’t happen over the past two (wetter) summers and the water plants just took over and stupidly, I let them go. I should never have planted them in the first place, but didn’t know much about water plants at the time. So I’ve been chopping out all the plants, slicing underneath and removing the matted root systems with the spade. Much easier to do when you don’t have to don gumboots. I’m looking forward to seeing clear water again. I’ve almost finished the first pool. It’s only shallow—just over ankle deep at the most. If the rain holds off, I may try and deepen it a bit before it fills again.

What it used to look like:

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What it looks like now:

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The third pool is deeper (probably up to my thighs) and still has water in the centre. It may not dry out completely. I might just clear around the edges and leave the centre for habitat:

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Dry sand? No worries for us. Just right for a bath. We love that gritty-sand-against-the-skin feeling:

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Later edit—just before hitting the publish button; it’s raining as I type this!! Yay! Looks like 10 mm in the gauge and a couple of thousand litres in the tank. More please, Rain God!

Next time you turn on a tap…..

May 23, 2012

…..think of this picture:

Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s radius. The above illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth’s Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn’s moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth‘s surface remain topics of research.

It came from this site. I’ve left the explanation and all the included links as is. Follow the links, they’re fascinating.

Amazing stuff, eh?

Watering & water storage

September 15, 2011

It’s good to see Melbourne’s dams over 60% full, but we can’t afford to sit back and relax.

Storing water for the home food garden is crucial for self-sufficiency and building resilience into our lives in the face of change. In a reticulated system, such as we have now, energy is need to pump water to suburban homes. In the energy-scarce future that’s ahead of us, we can’t guarantee that we’ll always be able to turn on a tap and have water at our fingertips.

So….putting in a tank should be a priority. Much more so than the latest brand of plasma TV.

It’s important to look at the cost of storing water per litre. Obviously, the bigger the tank, the cheaper the price (assuming the same material).  Our first tank, a 9,000 litre, cost about $1000. Some years later, we bought two 4,500 litre tanks and they cost about $1000 each. Cost per litre for the first tank was about 11 c. Twice that for the second tanks. Prices do rise, unfortunately.

When the drought was in full swing, Bunnings were selling 100 litre rainwater storage bins for $90. I saw several people buying them. I did a quick calculation—cost of water storage = 90 c/litre. That’s a lot.

Yet I bought two black plastic 60 litre rubbish bins (Willow brand) for $20 ($9.98 each). That’s 120 litres at a cost of 17 c/litre. Quite a difference. It seems the people who bought the $90 bins didn’t stop to do any calculations or consider what else was available.

In fact I’ve bought many more Willow bins over the last few years. I must have a couple of dozen now. Here’s what you can do with them:

*Turn the domed lid upside down and drill a small hole in the centre. The lid becomes a rainwater catchment:

*Put a bin in your veggie garden or beside a fruit tree, up on some bricks or a polystyrene box, for added height. Drill a hole in the side near the bottom and insert a length of 5 mm plastic tubing with an in-line tap. Open the tap and direct the water where you want it, when you want it. During water restrictions, with watering restricted to certain times of the day, you can use that time to simply fill up all your bins and then water when you want to. Better than standing and holding a hose for 2 hours.

*Use the bins to make nutrient tea. Just toss weeds into the water and let them rot down. Comfrey makes a great nutrient tea. But keep the lid on the bin….it stinks!

*I have a bin beside my water wicking boxes with a plastic jug in it. Handy for adding water down the access tube or watering in newly planted seedlings. I also have one in the polyhouse filled with water plus comfrey tea, worm juice and seaweed fertiliser. Great for watering seeds and seedlings.

You might find that mozzies can get into the bin through the hole and lay eggs. I used to scoop the larvae out with a kitchen sieve until I took the lid off a bin one day and found a million drowned mozzies floating on the surface. The adults must have hatched, but couldn’t get out through the hole!

Always be on the lookout for extra water storage receptacles. Second-hand baths are great. I have two now. The first one I snaffled from somebody’s nature strip during a non-burnable rubbish collection. The second was a present from a friend who scrounged it from his local tip.

As well as storing water, I use the baths to grow azolla, the floating water fern. If it’s allowed to completely cover the surface, mozzies aren’t a problem. I can scoop off handfuls for the worm farm or for mulch and it soon grows back to cover the surface. With a bath, you can put some timber slats or a sturdy wire frame over the top and put seedling pots on it. When you water them, the excess water drains straight back into the bath. One of my baths is full of tadpoles at the moment.

When you water from stored water containers  (providing you put them in the right place), you can let gravity do the job for you. It’s a no-brainer to put in a tank and then an electric or petrol-driven pump to get the water where you want it. That energy won’t always be around, but gravity will never go away!