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How (or IF) to catch & move rainwater on a new site  RSS feed

 
Laura Sweany
Posts: 293
Location: Onalaska, Lewis County, WA
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I've been working with a small group of new farmers, and they are trying to develop their new land from in-town (and wanting to minimize trips out there). I'm encouraging them to use cistern(s) and fill with the current OLD well, rather than dig a new well right away. This is their assessment of their situation. I'm going to suggest they use the existing pump-and-well each time they visit the property, and it should only take 7 8-hour days of running the pump hourly to fill the cistern with their existing setup. I'm also suggesting to them that they get more cisterns - then the water-from-the-brush-piles idea (with elevated pipes from the gutter) might make sense. Are there any other more elegant solutions out there, folks? -Laura

"So, we have a well that produces roughly 20 gallons per hour. But to make maximum use of it we need to be there every hour to turn on the generator and run the pump for the 5 minutes it takes to run dry. Currently the well output goes directly into an 1100 gallon cistern to which hoses can be attached for watering. Both the well and cistern are very close to the area where we will be planting most of our veggies (about 8,000 sq. ft of planting space to start).

We have a few small buildings with roofs suitable for collecting water with gutters and barrels, but none of them are at all close to the cistern. So any water collected from them would need to be somehow transported a fair distance.

There are two tall (~25ft) slash piles left over from the logging that are about 20 to 30 yards from the cistern. One idea we've had is to place several corrugated roof panels on the slash piles to collect additional rain water. But again we have the issue of how to get the water from there to where it is useful (in the cistern or directly to the plants).

A wheeled cart could probably hold one or two 55 gallon barrels worth of water, allowing them to be brought to the cistern or crop area and used as needed. But that doesn't feel like a very efficient solution to me. Just getting one full barrel of water into a cart seems like heavy, clumsy work.

We don't have access to any digging equipment other than hand tools, and any construction projects would have to be done using hand tools and/or the few battery powered tools we have (a couple old drill/screwdrivers and a reciprocating saw).
I know eventually I would like to have a system of swales extensive enough to make active irrigation a less urgent issue. But considering the size of the operation we're looking to start with (1/8 acre+), that kind of digging operation seems to be out of reach for the time being.

Anything helpful come to mind?"
 
Dave Burton
pollinator
Posts: 1026
Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
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To get it straight, the issues are with:
-storage
-transportation
-harvesting rainwater
-time being on site needed to pump wells

Is this correct? Are there others?

Do you have a map of the site showing where everything is located? Adding elevations would be useful, too.
 
Rhys Firth
Posts: 120
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My first thing would be to install a small electric pump, charger, battery, solar panel and timer system. it would likely be a smaller pump than the existing petrol one, but it could switch itself on whenever the well has replenished itself from the last pumping, so long as the controller reads sufficient voltage in the battery. Then you could take the existing pump and put it on the outlet of the cistern to pump the water to wherever you need it, given you will be there to use the water running the generator to run the pump won't be a problem.
 
Skyler Kvitek
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Hi there, I'm one of the owners of the property in question.

Rhys:
The solar powered pump on a timer was my first thought, but after looking around a bit, I can't find a solar pump setup that costs less than $700, which is out of our price range at the moment.
Definitely something that I want to have in the future, though. (The idea of re-purposing the old pump for the cistern is a great idea that hadn't occurred to me. Thanks!)

Dave:
The main issue is simply "How to have enough water to sustain roughly 1/8 acre of mixed vegetables between April and October."
Solutions being within the constraints of the only source of electricity on the property being a diesel generator that must be started and stopped manually, and the well is very slow and relatively shallow.
I'll try to get a useful map worked up later today.

Any help is welcome and appreciated
 
Skyler Kvitek
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Here's a map of our property (if I attached it to the post properly...)
The red boxes are the areas we plan to cultivate into veggie beds, the yellow box is where I have a couple hugel mounds and will probably make more, the green circles are the big slash piles I mentioned, the blue star is the well and generator, the purple star is the cistern.
As for elevation...Laura, do you recall if there was ever a digital version of the elevation map for our land? All the topographic maps I'm finding online aren't nearly detailed enough. They just show that it generally slopes down (very very gradually) from the southwest towards the river. But I know there are all kinds of little dips and high spots all over the pasture.
Pasture-map.png
[Thumbnail for Pasture-map.png]
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Assuming the 'customer' only want to come once a week and harvest/pickup their veggie basket. Then with careful cultivar selection you might not need as much water as you think.

With some drip irrigation pipe to conserve water loss and a direct solar panel attached to the DC well pump, plus 4 hours of sunlight you might be able to do the entire thing for less than $700.

How long is your growing season assuming it is zone 8. You can plant in the fall/winter the plants will still grow everyday it is above 32F and you get over 5inches of rain during those months.

You could also do raised bed for the winter months/cool season veggies and do infiltration basin bed for summer/warm season veggies.
 
Skyler Kvitek
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S Bengi: you mean skip water storage all together and just attach drip irrigation directly to the well pump outlet? That could work, if I could find a way to set up a timer to turn the pump on and off. I don't have much electrical knowledge (I barely know the difference between DC and AC). Is attaching a solar panel and a timer to a well pump a relatively simple process?
We definitely could grow stuff year round, with proper cultivar selection and maybe some cold frames to keep the worst weather off some of the more fragile plants. Though for now I just want to focus on spring through early autumn.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You growing season is basically a desert with months like July getting less than 1inch of rain, so I would get rid of raised beds and put everything at ground level so that all your water doesn't get wated.

I would mulch with straw after slug season.

Used drip irrigation on a timer

Your row should be 3ft wide vs the usual 1ft, so it is more of a block planting vs rows.

You probably don't need shade cloth but it might help to conserve water and prevent your veggies from bolting/flowering.

Plant a line of windbreak to reduce evaporation.

Plant your kale, collard, cabbage, bok choy, radish, beet, swiss chard, spinach, onion, garlic, etc from in the wet fall and don't start harvesting them until spring. This way you will only need water to maintain them vs completely grow them in the dry season.

You should be able to grow leafy veggies in the PNW without irrigation.

The more fertile your soil is the less water it needs add rock dust, and other amendments.

Now for your well/pump situation, with a 5 minute run time possible 15 minutes recharge time. You need a timer call a landscaping supply company.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Attaching a DC solar panel to a DC well pump is super easy. Putting a battery operated timer between them shouldn't be much more. Sourcing the parts esp the timer is where it might get fun.
 
Rhys Firth
Posts: 120
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Just thowing this out there, how much would a Raspberry Pi cost set up as a controller?

It's touted as a project controller board, so should be able to load a small timer control program. USB powered, so a 12V car charger wired into the battery/solar setup would run it. with the USB outlet running a small relay to click on and off the pump it wouldn't need much voltage, even a micro relay then toggling a larger relay which runs full current to the pump.
 
Permaculture isn't that hard to understand. Sometimes a little bump helps: richsoil.com/cards
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