Sunday, July 26, 2009

Squatter

Blake, from Innovative Water Solutions, pointed out that we could collect water from our air conditioner condenser. It has a discharge pipe that drips water all day; might as well reclaim it and water plants with it.
We brought plenty of 5-gallon white buckets with us from Oregon (I know, but I just couldn't throw them out. You never know when you might need one!) Ed set out immediately to dig a hole.
It was fairly quick work because the ground was so wet. The soil has so much clay in it that it will hold whatever shape you want so you only have to dig out what you need. As soon as he'd finished, he placed a bucket in the hole. I happened to be walking by a short time later and noticed that a toad had hopped inside. We thought that was funny and just left him in there.
From Yard makeover
Ed had to do some additional work on the discharge pipe to get the water to drip into the bucket, so he took it out and set it aside.
The toad seemed unperturbed. Ed finished the pipe work and set the bucket back into the hole. The water soon began to accumulate and we began to worry that the toad would drown. Maybe he/she couldn't climb out because the sides were to slippery. We put in a block of wood to serve as a floating pier, and sure enough the toad climbed onto it.
From Yard makeover

Eventually he did hop out. We still see him/her hanging out near by. We've since installed a flat rock to make it easier to climb out.
From Yard makeover
We get about a half a bucket of water a day - which is a lot when you think about it. We've shown our neighbors and hopefully will inspire them to do the same. We use it to water the various plants in the front yard. Beats paying the city, that's for sure, and we're able to provide a little wildlife habitat for more of the locals. Not to mention entertaining Ed and I. Who needs to go downtown to the 6th street nightclubs when we have a toad to watch?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Waterwise

Austin is in the middle of a severe drought. Reservoir levels are at new lows, farmers are applying for disaster relief, and water restrictions are tight. Ah, reminds me of the good old days in Talent, Oregon. My whole youth was a quest for water on that dry old hill. We had to haul it in order to irrigate the garden, and sometimes, to provide something for the livestock to drink. Is it any wonder that I have a keen interest in keeping every drop?

I'm in the right city. Austin has a Rainwater Harvesting rebate program for installations of 300 gallons or more. I knew about this before I moved here because This Old House on PBS did one of their projects here a few years ago. The homeowners had a system installed to supplement their irrigation. I looked up the old episode and contacted the company that did their system.

Chris and Blake at Innovative Water Solutions are a complete hoot. I bonded with them immediately. They are former Peace Corp volunteers still out saving the world, even if it is one drop of water at a time. They both have been very enthusiastic about my yard project and have been great to bounce ideas off of. I am so glad I met them and the rest of their crew. I'm very excited about our collection system.

The principle is fairly simple. Channel the rainwater off the roof into the gutters that are tied into a large holding tank.
From Yard makeover







The cistern is a 2,500 poly tank that sits along the side of the house. A small pump has been installed to power the water through my drip system.

I'm hoping that I can water the majority of the time out of my tank and not have to resort to city water. My non-traditional landscape shouldn't need a lot of water so I can concentrate what I have on the vegetables and fruit. Some additional mulching will help as well. The other benefit of using rainwater is that it will be more acidic than the limestone sluiced stuff coming out of the tap. This will help me keep the pH levels in the zone that my food-producing plants should thrive on.

Now if it would only rain!



Sunday, July 12, 2009

Compost Challenge

I thought I knew how to make compost. You just throw things in the bin, stir them around, and voila! All cooked and ready to go.

This Texas heat has changed everything.

It is near impossible to keep the pile cooking because it dries out so quickly. I also have a huge infestation of cockroaches and grubs. Again, mostly because I can't keep the pile hot. Ed and I keep adding kitchen scraps. And while I don't have grass clippings, I still get enough leaves and yard waste from the neighbors that should keep everything going. But alas, no rot.

The answer, of course, is to pour the water on it and keep stirring. It's hard to do that when you don't want to go outside because it's over 100 degrees. I didn't want to go outside in Oregon when it was pouring down rain and cold, but I did it anyway. Time to buck up and do the same here. I just have to figure out how to pour all that sweat on the compost so I can keep our water bill down. Hmm...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Garden Helper

One of the things I miss from my youth is the constant animal companionship from the farm. Dogs, cats, sheep, cows, pigs, the goat, the horse, chickens, pea fowl and even the occasional little sister followed me everywhere. As an adult I've been lucky to have pets that enjoyed supervising me as I garden, but right now I'm in a bit of a void. Anna, by choice, is a strictly indoor cat and only wanders out on the patio on occasion. Oh sure, there's Ed. But sometimes I'd prefer a little hairier or fully feathered friend.

Help has arrived.

A few weeks ago I noticed a pair of robins hanging out at the bird bath. I, of course, was out digging ditches in the front yard and would take a break to watch them bathe. (I know, indecent of me, but I couldn't turn away.) It didn't take them long to get used to me, and pretty soon they would simply ignore me as they splashed around. I guess they figured I was harmless, because they started following me around as I was digging. At first, they would stay at a discreet distance and wait for me to move off before they flew over to grab whatever I'd exposed. But it wasn't long before they were practically pushing me away to get at the juicy grubs, pill bugs, and occasional earthworm that I turned up with my pitch fork.
From Yard makeover


I guess they know a good thing when they see it, because now they have built a nest in one of the ash trees in front of the house.
From Yard makeover
It's in a prime location because they have a perfect vantage point of all my current ditch projects and can swoop down as soon as I show up to work for them. Ed and I are envious. We wish OUR grocery store was so convenient. I can't wait for the chicks to hatch, but I worry that the robins will be pecking on the windows for me to get outside and get digging. Hey! You! Slacker! Get your butt out here! I've got a family to feed! I guess I should be more careful what I wish for.