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Getting By Without A Well In New Florida Settup?  RSS feed

 
Andrew Michaels
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I'm considering some land in Florida, where it rains a lot. My research tells me it may cost as much of $7,000 to dig a well, get the pump, etc. It's more than I'd like to pay.

Is it realistic to collect enough water from the roof of a small building to provide you with drinking water, showers, and perhaps some limited irrigation, or am I going to have to get the pump?

Are there alternative ways to collect water I should be aware of?

 
Burra Maluca
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Check out this thread about rainfall catchment - http://www.permies.com/bb/index.php?topic=6948.0

And use this link http://www.save-the-rain.com/world-bank/ to figure out how much rainfall your (proposed) roof can catch.

 
Tyler Ludens
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People sometimes build a large shed to collect rainwater, and then they have a nice place for storage also.

Example:  http://milkwood.net/2011/02/28/gravity-fed-water-for-milkwood-farm/
 
Ben Walter
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Location: Deland, FL
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I'm in Central Florida and we do get lots of rain, but most of it comes in the summer.  The winter and spring, which are prime growing seasons here, tend to be very dry. 

I do have a well and would not have had a successful garden without irrigation this spring.  I'm waiting on some pecan stumps to die and then I hope to transition the garden to permanent beds that I will keep mulched.  I'm also looking for a better production method for biochar so I can incorporate a large amount of that in the beds as well.

I think with good soil management and water collection it's possible, especially with a smaller garden.  I have a large garden for a 20 person CSA, but I hope over time to greatly reduce my water use. 

Best of luck! 
 
Dave Bennett
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I would build a cistern if I were you.  Just make sure you use a sufficient number of aeration stones and a good quality air pump to keep the algae growth to a minimum or ideally none at all.   I prefer one made from wood but unless you have experience building one it is a daunting task.  I worked at an Olive Packing Farmers Cooperative in Linsday California for several years in the early 80's and had the wonderful opportunity of  "storage tun" maintenance.  A wooden barrel 14ft. in diameter and 8ft. tall holds about 14,000 gallons.  Building them can be expensive unless you can find a local saw mill that handles white oak.  It takes a long time because green oak needs to be air dried for a year before using it.  The construction of giant barrels is not at difficult as small barrels because once they are bigger than 9 or 10 feet in diameter the staves do not need to be angled.  Building round peaked roofs takes a little time to figure out too but assembling one can actually be done easily with two people and with much difficulty with one. LOL  I like the insulating properties of wooden cisterns and if done correctly there isn't a problem with tannins leaching from the oak into the water.
 
John Polk
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Wow!  My mind is picturing me walking around inside a 14,000 gallon "wine barrel" with a backpack propane weed burner, slowly giving a slight char to the surface.  To Hell with the water...I want to fill it with wine!

 
                                  
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I had a property in Florida that didn't have a well, but had a pond.  We ran pipes from the lake using a float keeping the water intake between waters.  We built a pumphouse where the electric utility came in.
 
Dave Bennett
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John Polk wrote:
Wow!  My mind is picturing me walking around inside a 14,000 gallon "wine barrel" with a backpack propane weed burner, slowly giving a slight char to the surface.  To Hell with the water...I want to fill it with wine!



Charring Oak is a necessary process for storing water.  The barrels I built in California were made from Redwood and were open top.  We didn't char them because they were filled with freshly harvested Olives.  There is a bit of "art involved in adjusting the steel bands to stop the leaks.  Once they are adjusted though there just isn't any leakage. 
 
Gord Welch
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Location: Oregon
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Great idea... I hope it works well for you. I think you could be very successful in Florida with this.

I remember hearing of a house in Colorado that had the roof sloping to the inside (a V shape rather than an A) and the water was collected in a cistern in the middle of the living space. It served as a cistern for sure, but it also kept the house cool throughout the hot months.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Location: Foothills north of L.A., zone 9ish mediterranean
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Plenty of rain here, if your roof and tank are big enough... but all depends on what you want to do/how much of what do you want to grow?  If you are planning on depending on fruit/veggie production for your income, might be wise to make the investment.  You can irrigate from a pond - but you will need a pump. 

Lot of rain falling right now, because rainy season has begun, but we had a real hot, dry spring.  You have to be prepared for months without any significant rainfall.  When it's hot, plants want water every day, and sand does not hold water. 
 
                                  
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Mulch holds water.  Use lots of mulch.
 
Gord Welch
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Location: Oregon
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I was thinking it might be helpful for you if you actually calculated how much water your household uses in a given period of time... add it all up and that would give you a number to work with in terms of what you'll need for storage capacity.

BTW are we talking Panhandle, Central or Southern?
 
Ken Peavey
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The first part of a good plan involves gathering information.

I'm in north FL, about halfway between Jax and Tall.  Average rainfall is 54 inches/year.  The last 3 summers have seen drought conditions, with D3-Extreme conditions reached this year in my area.  The Suwannee River is so low the river bed is exposed and there is grass growing 2' high.  The pasture is turning brown, grass growth is so slow I have to purchase hay for the bull.  Drought is insidious, and climate destabilization concerns me greatly.

There are 2 primary soil types in Florida.  The northern half of the state is sugar sand, the southern part is muck.  Muck is great for growing, but drainage can be a problem.  I'm up here in the sugar sand, so I can offer experience growing in it.  This is a quarzipsamment entisol soil-there is no soil horizon, course sand from top to bottom, and its a long way to the bottom.  Water drains right through it washing away nutrients, and is good for pasture or trees

A particular problem with the climate is humidity and warmth.  Microbial activity is such that organic materials are consumed rapidly.  I can pour compost into the soil by the truckload, in a year, it's back to sand.  There is a plus side to this-nutrients are released rapidly, and it is possible to grow all sorts of stuff.  Mild winters see only a handful of frosty mornings.  You can grow crops all year round, but the winter is the dry season, some sort of irrigation is crucial.

Reducing water demand is a key ingredient to a successful operation.  Organic matter is a fine way to retain water, but a means of trapping the water and nutrients is the goal.  Hugelkulture is showing great promise in this area.  The climate allows lush growth and abundant organic inputs if you have the time and energy to gather the stuff, and its always a good time to make compost.  Compost production is quick down here.

Overhead irrigation is problematic as up to 1/3 of the water will evaporate before it penetrates the soil.  Drip irrigation is effective in maintaining soil moisture and uses significantly less water.  I have had excellent results with Pitcher Irrigation.  Using double dug raised beds and lots of compost, I find that about a gallon per day per 20 square feet is barely sufficient to produce some crops.  Much less than that, you are wasting your time.  This works out to 1/4" of rain in a weeks time on the planted area, and more is desired.  In this soil, about an inch of rain per week is needed.

Water issues are of major concern in the southern half of the state.  Low elevations, a massive agriculture industry, and the large population place great demands on available water.  Being a low peninsula, there is no aquifer to tap.  Most of the water in south Florida comes from a major public works project stretching from Gainesville to Miami.  The system was planned and built since the 50s and is under great stress.  Population growth is continually adding to the problem.  Due to the climate, controlling bacteria in municipal water often results in water quality warnings being issued.  Using treated water for irrigating crops brings with it a great risk of soil salination. 

In the north, ground water is abundant, and the population is much lower.  High levels of iron and calcium can cause problems with irrigation systems clogging from built up mineral deposits.  Just to my northeast is the Okeefenokee Swamp.  The sun would have to explode for that to dry out.  Although some water supplies are high in hydrogen sulfide, giving well water a foul rotten egg smell, my water is crystal clear. 

Rainwater collection should be no problem at all, except for the drought.  An inch of rain falling on a 1000 sqft roof is about 750 gallons.  If you had to gather rainwater for personal consumption, you should have no problem at all.  A normal rain pattern in my area would see brief afternoon thunderstorm several times a week.  If you intend to gather rain in order to irrigate crops, you have the numbers to help you do the math on how much water you'll need and how much area you have to gather it from.

As far as the cost of drilling a well, A buddy of mine knows a guy who will drill a well for $3k.  Construction is just about dead right now, these guys are hunting for work.  I think your $7k figure is more flexible than you think.
 
Andrew Michaels
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Thanks for the great information, Ken. That's really helpful.

The land I'm looking for is in the southern area of the state near the Gulf Coast, not far from Naples. So it sounds like I'd be contending with the muck, but a general lack of rain.

When you said there's no aquifer to tap, you're not saying drilling wells is impossible, right?

Ken Peavey wrote:
The first part of a good plan involves gathering information.

I'm in north FL, about halfway between Jax and Tall.  Average rainfall is 54 inches/year.   The last 3 summers have seen drought conditions, with D3-Extreme conditions reached this year in my area.  The Suwannee River is so low the river bed is exposed and there is grass growing 2' high.  The pasture is turning brown, grass growth is so slow I have to purchase hay for the bull.  Drought is insidious, and climate destabilization concerns me greatly.

There are 2 primary soil types in Florida.  The northern half of the state is sugar sand, the southern part is muck.  Muck is great for growing, but drainage can be a problem.  I'm up here in the sugar sand, so I can offer experience growing in it.  This is a quarzipsamment entisol soil-there is no soil horizon, course sand from top to bottom, and its a long way to the bottom.  Water drains right through it washing away nutrients, and is good for pasture or trees. 

A particular problem with the climate is humidity and warmth.  Microbial activity is such that organic materials are consumed rapidly.  I can pour compost into the soil by the truckload, in a year, it's back to sand.  There is a plus side to this-nutrients are released rapidly, and it is possible to grow all sorts of stuff.  Mild winters see only a handful of frosty mornings.  You can grow crops all year round, but the winter is the dry season, some sort of irrigation is crucial.

Reducing water demand is a key ingredient to a successful operation.  Organic matter is a fine way to retain water, but a means of trapping the water and nutrients is the goal.  Hugelkulture is showing great promise in this area.  The climate allows lush growth and abundant organic inputs if you have the time and energy to gather the stuff, and its always a good time to make compost.  Compost production is quick down here.

Overhead irrigation is problematic as up to 1/3 of the water will evaporate before it penetrates the soil.  Drip irrigation is effective in maintaining soil moisture and uses significantly less water.  I have had excellent results with Pitcher Irrigation.  Using double dug raised beds and lots of compost, I find that about a gallon per day per 20 square feet is barely sufficient to produce some crops.  Much less than that, you are wasting your time.  This works out to 1/4" of rain in a weeks time on the planted area, and more is desired.  In this soil, about an inch of rain per week is needed.

Water issues are of major concern in the southern half of the state.  Low elevations, a massive agriculture industry, and the large population place great demands on available water.  Being a low peninsula, there is no aquifer to tap.  Most of the water in south Florida comes from a major public works project stretching from Gainesville to Miami.  The system was planned and built since the 50s and is under great stress.  Population growth is continually adding to the problem.  Due to the climate, controlling bacteria in municipal water often results in water quality warnings being issued.  Using treated water for irrigating crops brings with it a great risk of soil salination. 

In the north, ground water is abundant, and the population is much lower.  High levels of iron and calcium can cause problems with irrigation systems clogging from built up mineral deposits.  Just to my northeast is the Okeefenokee Swamp.  The sun would have to explode for that to dry out.  Although some water supplies are high in hydrogen sulfide, giving well water a foul rotten egg smell, my water is crystal clear. 

Rainwater collection should be no problem at all, except for the drought.  An inch of rain falling on a 1000 sqft roof is about 750 gallons.  If you had to gather rainwater for personal consumption, you should have no problem at all.  A normal rain pattern in my area would see brief afternoon thunderstorm several times a week.  If you intend to gather rain in order to irrigate crops, you have the numbers to help you do the math on how much water you'll need and how much area you have to gather it from.

As far as the cost of drilling a well, A buddy of mine knows a guy who will drill a well for $3k.  Construction is just about dead right now, these guys are hunting for work.  I think your $7k figure is more flexible than you think.

 
Andrew Michaels
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RusticBohemian wrote:
Thanks for the great information, Ken. That's really helpful.

The land I'm looking for is in the southern area of the state near the Gulf Coast, not far from Naples. So it sounds like I'd be contending with the muck, but a general lack of rain.

When you said there's no aquifer to tap, you're not saying drilling wells is impossible, right?

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of water-collecting earthworks like swales in Florida? I know they're used for drainage along the roads, but will they effectively increase groundwater on a property?

Also, I'm curious to know if you've seen any food forests based around swales in action in southern Florida, and if you noticed a significantly reduced need for water.

 
Ken Peavey
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Naples-There is a third soil type that is primarily seashells, I think Naples may be in that area.  It sounds to me like you are not in that area right now.  You would do well to get a sample of the soil sent to you so you can take a look.

Wells can be drilled, there is ground water.  
 
Ken Peavey
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Swales and ditches are constructed primarily to handle storm water.  Thunderstorms can drop a heap of rain all at once, with several inches being common.  Although the sandy soil allows for rapid drainage, it takes time.  Much more than 2 inches of rain per hour will see the water build up rapidly.  Daytona is notorious for poor drainage, with downtown streets filling with water frequently.  Its like Venice sometimes.

What I have observed is that these swales have higher moisture levels, even in times of drought.  Where my field is turning brown, the bottom of the ditches along the road are still green.  Road crews are always at work mowing and trimming these drainage ditches-more water means more growth.  The things appear to be handy little biotopes. 

In the last week I've had a few small thunderstorms.  Not enough to offer the water needed by this parched soil, but enough to keep the grass alive.  I noticed there is a pattern that develops in the appearance of the land.  There are rows about 8 feet wide, east to west, which appear uniformly across the field.  This would be consistent with the place having been cleared, it's all forest around my little field.  These rows are slightly higher in the middle and lower on the end.  This would be consistent with a wear pattern in a bulldozer box blade.  What is interesting to note is the low points turn greener faster after a small rainstorm and stay greener longer.  This makes sense-the water flows downhill. 

This has me thinking that raised beds are not the solution.  In my house in town I used raised beds.  If the beds were level with the ground I suspect I would have beneficial results.  The paths between the beds will see water pool up due to less drainage.  The beds readily absorb water so the water does not pool in the beds.  Seems to me if the water from the pathways could simply flow into the beds I get the paths drained and the beds with more water.  Why am I concerned with the drainage ability of a raised bed?  Bring the water, along with the washed out nutrients, to the beds.  I've been doing it backwards.

Do swales increase groundwater?  I think they would have little impact on groundwater.  Swales are small and localized environs where groundwater would be effected on a larger scale.  As far as making a microclimate, swales seem to be working.

I was last in the Naples are about 4 years ago working on an iron foundry.  There was no opportunity to get out to see much.  I have yet to see a food forest created by design.  One day I will leave this job, it will be a new experience in freedom.

 
Andrew Michaels
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Would you still be able to have a large amount of rich soil sequestered off the ground without the raised sides?

Ken Peavey wrote:

 
This has me thinking that raised beds are not the solution.  In my house in town I used raised beds.  If the beds were level with the ground I suspect I would have beneficial results.  The paths between the beds will see water pool up due to less drainage.  The beds readily absorb water so the water does not pool in the beds.  Seems to me if the water from the pathways could simply flow into the beds I get the paths drained and the beds with more water.  Why am I concerned with the drainage ability of a raised bed?  Bring the water, along with the washed out nutrients, to the beds.  I've been doing it backwards.
 
Ken Peavey
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The whole point of raising a bed is to promote drainage.  This sugar sand drains readily so raising the bed is moot.  However, if the bed were depressed, as with a swale, water would be directed into the bed.  I dont want to create a situation where excess rainwater floods a bed, and I dont think my back would take keenly to the notion. 

With abundant organic material added to the bed, and the bed being level, that bed should be able to slurp up considerably more water than the paths. 

 
Dave Bennett
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Keep in mind that Florida is a giant peninsula of porous limestone.  Ken knows why his water flushes into the ground so fast.  Southern Fla. has a concentrated population plus intensive industrial agriculture.  I thought about moving to Fla. back in the early 70's but went to Cal. instead.  I left there because I wanted to get away from such intensive use of chemicals on the land.  The same is true in Fla.
 
Mike Turner
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You could build a dewpond to collect water.  They will produce water even in the absence of rain as long as the relative humidity is high enough and the nightly temps drop low enough to approach the dewpoint.
 
Ben Walter
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I encourage you to check out biochar.  There's a lot of research around this and it's promising for holding water and soluble nutrients.  It increases your CEC and AEC.  I'm making it in a small kiln made out of a 55 gal drum with a 15 gal drum inside.  I'm looking of for a more efficient method to increase my production. 

I am doing a hugelkultur/biochar hybrid where I'm planting trees.  I dig a shallow hole and pack it full of wood.  I burn this until I get a good amount of coals and then smother it with compost and soil.  I let it "simmer" for about a day and then soak it with water.  I haven't planted any trees yet but I'll let you know how it goes. 

You should check out ECHO farm, I believe it's close to where you are looking at land. 
 
                                  
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Check out biochar.org .
 
Dave Bennett
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Biochar?
Check out this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXMUmby8PpU
and this one:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaixJyg5D0c&feature=related
 
If you try to please everybody, your progress is limited by the noisiest fool. And this tiny ad:
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