Sunday, August 02, 2015

Watering the plants

The back porch has a number of plants in various types of pots, and these tend to need more water than plants in the ground--the dirt gets hotter. And when we don't get enough rain we run the hose over the gardens. (The lawn can fend for itself.)

The soil is an extremely complicated community of fungi and bacteria and tiny animals, and it only just occurred to me tonight that the tap water has chloramide (and probably some fluorine compound as well). Quick googling says yes, this can sometimes cause problems (and sometimes it doesn't make any difference) and getting the chloramide out isn't altogether trivial. People aren't terribly clear about the detailed causes of the problems when they do happen, but nobody understands soil ecology very well so that's not surprising.

I tried rotting out a tree stump using the "drill a bunch of 1" holes, with side vent holes and pour in potassium nitrate and water" method. (Other sources suggested setting the stump on fire after that mix had a chance to percolate, but I'm not interested in melting the underground cables that lace our little berm.) Yes, we finally got some mushrooms growing, but a year late, and the stump still has most of its structural integrity. Maybe the tap water I poured in killed the fungi, and the potassium nitrate didn't have much to fertilize?

Maybe I need to reroute the downspouts into rain barrels. Or call UW Extension. That sounds easier.


Texan99 said...

We don't have city water, so no chlorine, but we can tell a big difference between watering with rainwater or (pretty awful) well-water. If you have any way to hook up your gutters to a series of good-sized rain-barrels, you might find your soil is happier. Our rain-water cistern is large--20,000 gallons--but although it's adequate to supply the house,* we would draw it down quickly if we tried to irrigate with it, beyond the modest needs of potted plants.

Organic gardening has been my husband's hobby for some time. The evidence that sterilizing the soil (with either chlorine or excessive fertilizer) is a horrible idea is persuasive. I guess it's a little like ruining your gut with excessive antibiotics. The micro-critters are important.

*Minus the toilets, which run on well-water.

james said...

Rain generally soaks in, so all we'd have to add would be runoff from the roof, which as you point out isn't much for irrigation. If we don't get enough rain, the garden is hosed.

Texan99 said...

But bear in mind, our 20,000-gallon tank is filled solely by the runoff from our roof. That would allow for a lot of irrigation if we weren't also using it to supply the house. You get a surprising amount of rain off of a roof; the main problem is that you're not likely to capture it all, because any less-than-huge cistern simply fills up and overflows rather early in the downpour. Then it empties out if there's a long break between rains.

We picked 20,000 gallons because our analysis of historical rainfall patterns suggested that it would take an unusual drought to empty a cistern of that size. In ten years, it's gone empty twice. If we wanted to be more secure, we'd have a second 20,000-gallon cistern, which we'd have no trouble keeping full. The only reason we don't is the cost.

Anyway, even if you use rainwater only part of the time, it's better than using city water all the time.

james said...

Be great to have something like that but that's pretty big. Our city lot is kind of tiny. I think we can find room for a 55 gallon drum in an odd corner or two--though we'd have to drain them come winter.

Texan99 said...

Drain them for winter! Hard for me to imagine. We barely think about protecting hose bibs in what passes for cold weather here. To find a thin skin of ice on the surface of the bird-bath would be an exciting event: look at the hard shiny stuff!