The Garden at Oswegatchie School is a sustainable organic garden where children get a hands on experience learning where their food comes from while developing an appreciation and respect for nature. The Garden will be a learning center to teach gardening as well as incorporating art, music, literature, math and science. It is a place where children are encouraged to join in and participate in the process of creating, developing and maintaining the garden!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Harvesting  Rainwater

Our goal is to make the school garden a sustainable system, one that doesn't depend on outside resources. We work to achieve this by saving seeds and bulbs each year to replant in the spring,  making our own compost using leaves from the surrounding trees and debris from the garden, and by companion planting to help with pest problems so we don't need to use pesticides.

One major problem we've encountered was that we relied heavily on the city water from the school to keep the garden irrigated each season, especially throughout the summer months. Dragging the garden hose 150' to the building to hook up to the water supply was a chore in itself so we decided to take advantage of the free resource and harvest rainwater from the roof of the shed. 

We purchased two 60 gallon rain barrels, already set up with a cover, screen to filter out leaves, spigots to hook a hose up to and over flow valves.  We installed gutters and downspouts on the shed and hooked up both barrels. 

Before deciding to try harvesting rainwater we needed to calculate how much water we could collect off the roof of the shed.

Its a simple calculation:
(length x width of the roof in inches) x (inches of rainfall) divided by 231
(because 1 gallon = 231 cubic inches)

The shed roof is 62" x 100" per side.
(62 x 100) x 1 divided by 231 = 26.84 gallons per inch of rain!

We have rain barrels on both sides of the shed so we need to double that number:
26.84 x 2 =  53.68 gallons of rain collected for every inch that falls!

Thats's quite an impressive amount of rain from a small shed!

This year we have gotten approximately 42.54" of rain so far! If you plug that into the equation:

(62 x 100) x 42.54 divided by 231 = 1,141.77 gallons, for each side of the roof, double that to account for both sides of the roof and we could have potentially collected 2,283.53 gallons of water!

Needless to say, the rain barrels collected more than enough rain water to keep the garden irrigated for the entire growing season and they are both still full! We haven't had to use the water from the faucet at all so it we have achieved the goal of keeping the garden irrigated sustainably!

We did water the garden by hand from the rain barrels, which was still a bit of a chore, but we didn't mind because it gave us time to really look at the plants and closely observe how everything was growing. The idea of putting a solar pump on the barrels to move the water through a hose to the beds was considered, but after much research we decided to try using ollas (pronounced oy-yas) next year.

Ollas are terra cotta vessels that are buried in the garden and filled with water. The water is released when the surrounding ground becomes dry, providing irrigation to the plants. Ollas have been used for thousands of years. Depending on how dry it is they only need to be filled every 3 to 5 days. We add a lot of organic matter to the garden and plant densely using different height plants spaced close together to create mini microclimates. This helps to keep the soil covered, minimizing evaporation, allowing the soil to hold on to more moisture, so we usually don't need to water that often.

In the spring we are going to put a couple ollas in two of the beds to see how well they work.

Gardening in harmony with nature, instead of trying to control it, seems to be less effort and offers greater rewards by means of minimal pest problems and greater harvests.

We've been noticing more and more critters showing up in the garden as well. It's nice to be able to observe so many forms of nature just foot steps from the school!