Saving Water: Tips We’ve Learned Along the Way

Reader Contribution by Mary Murray
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Slowly, but certainly, we’re beginning to see the gentle green of spring…buds on the lilac, chives sprouting in the garden, and the sun shining brilliantly. Yes, there’s a lingering chill in the air, and even a bit of snow fell last night, but we can feel that a change is coming. The predicted warmth of this week will encourage daffodils and azaleas, and it looks like the last of the puddles are finally drying. I quickly dodge the few remaining puddles as I set out for daily chores, only to land in a spot of mud more often that not. The folks around us call this “Bootscrape Weather” and they couldn’t be more right. Funny enough, the farm wives will tell you mud on the floor is as much a sign of spring as the first flower!  An old quote from the Hoosier Farmer comes to mind…

“Love is the thing that enables a woman to sing while she mops up the floor after her husband has walked across it in his barn boots.”

A basket sits by a comfy sofa, and soon I steal a few minutes to look through the latest arrival of seed catalogs and favorite magazines. My to-do list is getting longer… I want to make an arbor from some dusty old doors I found tucked away in the back of  our barn, while a vintage screen door seems just the right thing to add a little whimsy to a flower garden. And oh yes… those broken dishes. (Who knew the bottom of that box was so flimsy?) When I lifted it up, out they came with a crash… a rainbow of colorful bits that now wait to become mosaic stepping stones around the chicken coop.

Then in the middle of all my planning and dreaming it comes to me, as it does every year, why (on what was once a cattle farm 70 years ago then in later years a horse farm) are there no working water pumps near the barns and gardens?  Each year this means hauling water from the one lonely spigot near the house to make sure our goats and chickens, barn cats and trusty guard dog have all the water they need. And when the garden is planted, several sections of hose work will wind their way over the grass, gravel, and then more grass until they meet their destination. Years ago we had someone search for water lines… there must be some, but after watching them dig up most of the yard and finding none, we gave up. (Someday I’d love to have a water pumping windmill… add one more thing to do to-do list!)

Like so many, we look forward to that first tomato, warm from the garden… is there anything better? We’ve also started setting up a little roadside stand to share our extra vegetables. So over the years we’ve tried to come up with clever ways to provide water for the garden by saving rainwater and using the water we do have as efficiently as possible. And so, if you should you find yourself living in a 155-year old farmhouse with only one outdoor spigot, we’re happy to share some of the ideas that have worked for us.

 1 — Underground cisterns are a good way to collect rainwater, and if you live in an old farmhouse, you may already have one. Ours is located where all the rainwater is directed off of the roof, and adding a new pump was easy. Companies such as Lehman’s Hardware have several types of pumps to choose from. Practical and pretty… what’s not to like?

 2 — Adding mulch to garden rows will help plants hold onto moisture, as well as slow down evaporation and weed growth. Last summer we tried a new method that worked very well… a thick 6-inch layer combination of straw, compost, and shredded leaves. It could also be manure, pine shavings, or winter’s bedding from the chicken coop. Anything that will hold water and break down over time.

 3 — Watering early in the morning before the heat of the sun can begin to evaporate the water is always best for us. On days that are very hot or during a long dry spell, we will water twice, again at sunset. While there’s no evaporation, watering late in the day can attract slugs, so it’s something we don’t do often.

 4 — Soaker hoses are great to make sure the water gets right to the plant roots, and it also helps cut down on evaporation.

 5 — Setting up a rain barrel is something new for us, and we can’t wait to see how it works. We had the ideal spot to add a downspout that will feed rainwater directly into a rain barrel. I feel that harvesting the rain just might make all the difference during the hot days of July and August. And while we’re not worried about a higher water bill, we do want to make sure we don’t waste the groundwater from our well.

 6 — Simply go organic! Organic planting methods will help retain moisture in the garden. Healthy soil filled compost, leaf and grass clippings, and manure will act as a sponge to keep plants strong and growing, even when the heat and dry weather arrive.

Walking to our garden spot this morning, I reconsider its future size. Hmmm, maybe I’ll add a section for a salsa garden, and the kids would like a pizza garden. While I’m pondering, in the distance I can hear a garden tractor sputter and then roar to life… Someone else is thinking it’s time to garden, too. The earth is waking up… in its proper time.

Mary is a Midwest farm girl who will tell you, “I love simple, old-fashioned ways. For me, it’s the country pleasures that mean the most … tying on an apron for Sunday dinner, barn sales & auctions, farmers’ markets, county fairs, porch swings, and slow train rides. Add to these the laughter of children, and I couldn’t be happier!” You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here, Windy Meadows Farm.

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