Dry Climate Vegetables

roguenewze

Here in Arrakis, I mean California, we’re in the midst of a terrible drought. And unfortunately, most of the seeds we buy for our vegetable gardens are adapted to require lots of water. One solution is to find veggies that have reseeded accidentally without supplemental irrigation. Here’s a short list of reseeding rogue veggies from our garden that have thrived with just the small burst of rain we got last month.

Continue reading…

Rain- The Best Gift of All

Homegrown Neighbor here:

It is Christmastime, I am stuffed full of food and my house is brimming with yet more stuff. I have enjoyed the holidays, but I’m even more excited about the rain we have had and that there is perhaps more in the forecast. When it comes to what really counts, well, rain is pretty high up there.
The past few years have been extremely dry here in the West. The year before last we literally had 3 inches of rain in L.A. So rain really feels like a gift from the gods.
We had a decent rain recently and I have been using the water I harvested. As you can see in the photo, my downspouts go into a rain barrel. A slight design flaw I have discovered in hindsight is that the spout doesn’t attach directly to the barrel. There is screening over the top of the barrel but it isn’t a very fine mesh. I meant for it to keep leaves and large debris out. I forgot about mosquitoes. It would be ideal if the spout was attached directly to the barrel and there was no point of entry for the bugs. But these are home made rain barrels and I have lived and learned from my mistakes. But I do get to harvest a decent amount of water and it feels very satisfying to see that barrel full after only a light rain.
So due to the mosquito issue, I use my harvested rain water as soon as possible. Once the soil has dried out, usually just a couple of days later, I attach a hose to the barrel and let it drain. I will set it in the garden and move it around to a few different spots. I have five 55 gallon barrels set up so far.
Rainwater really helps flush out salts that can build up in the soil (an issue here in the West) and unlike tap water there is no chlorine. The plants just love the rain water. I also planted beet, carrot and onion seeds right before the rain. They are now starting to sprout.
In the new year one of my projects is going to be upgrading the rainwater harvesting system. In addition to the existing rain barrels, I want to make sure that any excess water is absorbed by the landscape. Currently a lot of water runs down the driveway during a rain. This is made worse by a downspout that feeds directly into the driveway. The driveway of course channels the water straight to the street where it goes to the ocean. It would be better to have that water sink back into the earth. So I want to redirect that water into a detention basin instead. It will be a small depression planted with native plants adapted to our weather patterns. More water for me, less water wasted! Directing rainwater from your roof into the landscape is often simpler and lower in cost that harvesting in a barrel or cistern.

The small 55 gallon barrels I have are great, but they fill up very quickly even in a light rain. You would be amazed at how much water you can collect. There are many cistern options out there. They just tend to be very large and expensive. But I recently saw a display from Bushman Tanks who offer water harvesting and storage tanks suitable for the average homeowner. I thought the prices were reasonable and I love the slim line tanks that are designed to store a lot of water in a small footprint. I know what I want for Christmas next year…..

[Mr. Homegrown here--hopefully Santa will bring us a Bushman Tank too--in the meantime, see our rain barrel here.]

Make a Rain Barrel

There’s a lot of advice floating around the internets about how to make a rain barrel. Most barrel pundits suggest drilling a hole in the bottom of a barrel and installing a faucet, a kind of connection called a “bulkhead fitting”. Unfortunately such improvised fittings have a tendency to leak. My favorite way to make a rain barrel is to take a 55 gallon drum, use the preexisting fittings on the top and turn it upside down, a process explained nicely here (complete with a list of parts), by B. Chenkin who will also sell you a kit at Aquabarrel.com.

To get started, you get a ubiquitous 55 gallon drum with two threaded “bung” holes that look like this:

A good source for this kind of barrel is your local car wash. Just make sure that the barrel you scavenge didn’t have nasty chemicals in it. You punch out the center of one of the bungs, as shown, and insert a threaded PVC fitting. A few more PVC parts from the sprinkler section of your hardware store, a brass hose fitting with a valve, and you’ll have this:


Glue that up with some PVC cement, wrap the threads with teflon tape, and you’re almost ready to collect rainwater. But first, turn the barrel upside down, drill a hole for the down spout another hole to insert an overflow pipe made out of a threaded 3″ waste pipe fitting:

The last step is to prop the barrel up on some wood or concrete blocks to give some clearance for your hose connection and some extra elevation for a gravity assist to help push the water through a garden hose.

The overflow connection is another reason I like Chenkin’s design. It’s important to keep rainwater away from your foundation especially when, like us, you live on a hill. The picture at top shows our barrel installed with the overflow pipe connected to a pipe that runs down to the street. Los Angeles’ building code required us to run our rainwater out to the street, where it helps wash pollution into the LA River and the ocean (see creekfreak for more on LA’s pesky water issues). At least we’ll be channeling some of that water, via the barrel, to our new fruit trees. Those of you with flat yards could simply connect up an overflow pipe that would take the water at least ten feet from the foundation.

In Southern California, where rain never falls between May and October, a 55 gallon drum won’t meet much of our irrigation needs, though Chenkin’s design does allow you to chain multiple barrels together. What we really need is an enormous cistern, something with a capacity in the neighborhood of around 10,000 gallons. Ideally houses here, as in the ancient Roman world, would have been built with huge underground holding tanks. A small rain barrel like this makes more sense for those of you who live in places with rain throughout the year, where a small amount of collected rainwater could be used to bridge a gap in rainstorms. I put this rain barrel together as a test and because I was tired of looking a blue drum that sat in the backyard for a year giving our patio a methamphetamine lab vibe.

Again, for complete instructions and a list of parts visit Chenkin’s ehow page or, if you’re not adept at perusing the isles of the local hardware store, buy a kit from him through Aquabarrel.

[Editors note: due to spamming (are rain barrel enthusiasts really that excited about internet pharmaceuticals?) we've had to shut down comments for this post.]

Rainwater Harvesting and Beyond

If you live in a dry climate like we do here in Los Angeles your bookshelf should have a copy of one of Brad Lancaster’s amazing books. Through very simple techniques, most of which can be executed with a shovel and a free afternoon, Lancaster shows you how to turn a barren landscape into a Garden of Eden. Lancaster empasizes earthworks which capture and channel water where you want it to go, instead of uselessly sending it down the gutter.

For those of you in Southern California, Lancaster will be delivering a free talk at the Santa Monica Public Library Monday September 15th at 6:30 p.m. More info via Westside Permaculture Gatherings.

If you’re not in SoCal, you can get more information about Lancaster’s work and order a copy of one of his books on his website, www.harvestingrainwater.com.

Rainwater Harvesting with Joe Linton

With the driest spring on record here in Los Angeles, water and where to get it ought to be on all of our minds in this drought prone metropolis. Thankfully, artist, author, Los Angeles River expert and co-founder of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Joe Linton will be teaching a workshop on rainwater harvesting at the Los Angeles Eco-Village on Saturday, June 14, 2008 from 9 am to 3 pm at L.A. Eco-Village (Directions)

Here’s a description of the workshop from the Eco-Village’s website.

This workshop is part of a continuing series in “hands-on” urban permaculture and includes:

  • An overview presentation on Los Angeles water issues, including local multi-benefit watershed management efforts.
  • A tour of Los Angeles Eco-Village stormwater harvesting landscape features, including the Bimini Slough Nature Park.
  • A hands-on workshop to build terraced swales to detain and infiltrate storm water
  • This workshop focuses on building earthworks that gather and infiltrate rainwater in the landscape. It does not cover rainwater harvesting with cisterns, which we anticipate will be the subject of a future hands-on permaculture workshop, hopefully in early fall 2008. Watch for details.

Fee: $35 (sliding scale available) – bring a bag lunch.
Registration required: 213/738-1254 or [email protected] (workshop size limited)

About Joe Linton
Joe is an artist and urban environmental activist. He’s been involved for many years in efforts to restore and revitalize the Los Angeles River, including writing and illustrating the guide book Down By The Los Angeles River (Wilderness Press 2005). Joe is a long-time resident member of Los Angeles Eco-Village and a co-founder of the LA County Bicycle Coalition.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands


“The bricoleur, says Levi-Strauss, is someone who uses “the means at hand,” that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogeneous.”

-Jacques Derrida

Homegrown Revolution loves cheap low-tech solutions (not to mention pretentious quotes), which is why we especially like “bricoleur” and Tucson rainwater harvesting guru Brad Lancaster and his ongoing book series Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands. Volume one is already out and volume two is due out this summer. Landcaster’s ingenious methods involve little more than careful observation and some work with a shovel. He suggests that harvesting rainwater begins with considering the flow of water from the highest point (which for most people will be the roof) to the lowest point in your yard and then simply figuring out simple ways to get that water to percolate into the ground to nourish your plants.

We’re especially fond of his method of hijacking street gutter runoff and directing it with a small improvised check dam into a dug out basin in the parkway. We’ve watched our neighbor’s lawn watering runoff for years and wondered if we could find a way to use that water. You can watch two videos showing Lancaster at work here. And a podcast here.

Rain Barrels


Constructing a cistern large enough to supply potable indoor water is an ambitious project involving pumps, filters, UV purifiers, and very large and expensive tanks. We don’t want to discourage anyone from making an attempt at it, but for most urban homesteaders it won’t be economical or practical given the space requirements and weight of thousands of gallons of stored water. Thankfully, there are simpler strategies for harvesting rainwater.

Rainwater used for irrigating plants does not need filtering or purification, and since outdoor watering accounts for the number one household water use, you’ll be using that water where it is most needed. Now, once again at the risk of sounding like a broken record, our strict rule around the SurviveLA homestead is that all irrigated plants must be useful, i.e. you gotta be able to eat it or make tea with it. Priority in our plantings goes to useful plants that don’t need additional water once established. But it’s still nice to have citrus trees, salad greens, rapini, beets, and other fruits and vegetables that do need supplemental irrigation. For these types of plants it’s possible to supplement municipal water with rainwater collected in barrels.

You can purchase commercial barrels made of this purpose, but it’s also possible to construct your own using surplus barrels with the same improvised bulkhead fitting we described in our post on washing machine greywater harvesting. In fact your rainwater collection barrel is pretty much the same as your washing machine greywater surge tank, but instead of being connected to the washing machine, it’s connected to your gutter downspouts. Depending on how much rain you get and how many loads of laundry you do, it may be possible to double up and use the same barrel. And, just like your greywater surge tank, it’s best to elevate the rain barrel to let gravity do the work of getting the water where you need it and thereby not have to deal with the cost and complexity of pumping water.

Some precautions–your rainwater barrel should have screens over the inlets to prevent mosquitos from breeding and it’s wise to rig an overflow pipe at the top of the barrel to channel water away from your homestead’s foundations. You will also need to clean the barrel periodically, and where it freezes it may be necessary to turn the barrel upside down for the winter.

Sizing your rain barrel system, or determining if using a rain barrel is worth the effort, requires going back to the formula we discussed earlier. But instead of figuring out how much water per year your roof can collect, you need to consider the amount per month. Monthly rain data for cities in the US can be found here. Rain barrel harvesting makes the most sense in places where it rains throughout the growing season, with the barrels providing additional water to bridge gaps between rains. In a place like Los Angeles where all of the rain is concentrated at one time of the year, rainwater barrels may not be practical.

To size up your rain barrel collection system it’s possible to daisy chain several barrels together using yet another bulkhead fitting towards the top of the barrel and pvc pipe to connect them together. There is also a commercially available kit for this purpose. Remember that bulkhead fittings are notorious for leaking, so be precise with your improvised plumbing work.

SurviveLA believes that all greywater and rainwater harvesting systems should be kept as simple as possible since most folks are lousy at doing any kind of maintenance (when was the last time you drained your water heater?). And, with the low cost of municipal water, even a simple system built with surplus parts probably won’t make sense from an economic standpoint. But, aside from being just generally groovy, rain barrel water collection could be an insurance policy for the uncertainties of global warming. Someday water may be more valuable than oil . . .

Rainfall Harvesting Math


Our next step in designing a rainwater harvesting system is to figure out how much water your rooftop will provide.

To do this measure the outside perimeter of your roof–you need not take into account the pitch or slant of the roof, since this does not affect the amount of water collected. Next, use the following formula:

collection area (square feet) x 0.6 x collection efficiency factor x rainfall (inches) = gallons per year

The collection efficiency factor is basically how good your roof is at shedding water. Metal roofs are the best and have the additional benefit of reflecting the heat of the sun and being less prone to leaks. Figure on a efficiency factor of .95 for a metal roof. Pitched asphalt shingle roofs are next with a efficiency factor of .9. Tar and gravel roofs are the least efficient with a factor of .8. Both tar and gravel and asphalt shingle roofs retain a fair amount of water after a rain, but they will still work fine for rainwater collection.

Data on both yearly and monthly average rainfall can be found on the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration website.

For our house here in Los Angeles, we have a collection area of 992 square feet, a pitched asphalt shingle roof and an average of 15.06 inches of rain a year. So the average amount of rain we could collect in a year would be:

992 x 0.6 x 0.9 x 15.06 = 8,067.34 gallons.

If we lived in Atlanta, where the average annual precipitation is 48.6 inches per year we could theoretically collect 26,034 gallons of water a year.

With these numbers in mind we can begin to answer a few questions. Does rainwater collection make sense for your climate and living circumstances? If so, what kind of system will work?

In the Gutter

Our roofs, of course, are another impermeable surface that prevents rainwater from going where it should go–to our edible landscape. We can minimize the surface area by living in as small a house as possible and trying to maximize open ground. At our own compound we’ve even gone so far as to remove some previous resident’s bad addition and reduce the footprint of our house. So called green roofs, which have soil and plants growing on them our an option for the wealthy, but at present are still rare in the US. Most of us will still be dealing with conventional roofs.

Now assuming you’ve got a roof we will hope that you have gutters. Gutters have two purposes, to channel water away from your fragile and very expensive to repair foundation, and to channel it to where that water can be useful, to your edible landscaping. As much as we support self-sufficiency, putting on gutters is a job we think is best left to professionals, specifically professionals who produce seamless gutters with a machine like the one pictured above. Putting up gutters yourself can often be a frustrating experience that you must perform while balanced high atop a ladder. Gutters must have the correct slope or water will stagnate and create the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. If they leak you run the risk of rotting out your fascia boards. By all means, if you can afford it, hire a professional for this job. If you can’t afford it go sell some crack on the street corner until you have enough money. The do-it-yourself gutter systems available at home centers, especially the plastic kind, look like crap even in the off chance that you install them correctly.

While we’re big believers in sloth and idleness, one task that absolutely must be performed at least once a year is to get up on a ladder and clean out the gutters. Otherwise, you will be attempting this task, as we have on several occasions, during a downpour at midnight, after the downspouts have clogged up sending a cascade of water over the damned up gutters.

Two simple bits of technology can make gutter cleaning easier. We have inexpensive strainer baskets made out of 1/4 inch hardware cloth in each of the downspouts to keep them from clogging up. Some may wish to consider leaf guards which run along the top of the gutter to keep out leaves and other debris. The problem with leaf guards is that in order to clean out your gutters you must tediously remove the guards along the whole length of the gutter while, once again, balanced precariously on a ladder. While leaf guards catch large leaves, smaller stuff can still get through, so you might as well just stick with the strainer baskets in most situations.

Gutters are just the first step, however. Downspouts must be incorporated to carry that water from your gutters to where you can put that rainwater to use.