Friday, December 19, 2014

Over My Dead Pickle Barrel, or Bernadette

As many of you know who have been reading this blog for a while, I have a propensity for naming things.  Body parts, fences, shoes, socks, nebuli's.  I originally came up with the name "Bertha" for the new beast that graces our nether yard, but then I already have plans for an even larger beast, and "Bertha" should always be reserved and used for the largest of anything.  No matter what it is.  I have no idea why.  So I decided on "Bernadette", which is a great 4 Tops song by the way.  "Bertha" is also a great Dead tune by the way.

Nothing like the Dead at Winterland either.  By the way.

By this time you may be wondering just what the heck I'm talking about.  So am I.  Let's start at the beginning, at the other part of the title to this post, the simple and highly functional pickle barrel, and then maybe we can all figure it out together.

Last August, or September, I mean, who can remember that far back, a friend of my sons gifted me a couple pickle barrels.  You may be more familiar with them as rain barrels, those terra cotta colored 55 gallon plastic food safe pickle barrels that seem to be popping up everywhere for use as a rain barrel.

It's all a great idea, but what do you do when the barrel gets full?  And guess what?  If you have that barrel on the end of a downspout from your roof's rain gutters, that puppy is going to fill up fast.  Like in one storm fast.  I'll get back to that soon.  So what do you do with the water?

If you put a water spigot down at the bottom like you should, then you can gravity feed some plants around the barrel with a hose.  But why water the plants when they've just been rained on?  You can cap the barrel and at least you have 55 gallons of water to use in the summer.  And then reroute your downspout around the barrel and let the water flow like it used to.  But then you've got aesthetics to deal with.  It's a conundrum, I know, and hardly worth the effort for just 55 gallons.

I suppose if you live in the desert, one or two rain storms might be all you get for the season.  Then you happily may have an extra 55 gallons of water you can douse your cacti with.  Not so here in the Sierra foothills, even when we have a drought.  Last year we got about 30 inches, and that amount of rain will fill those barrels more than twice.

However, if you live on a hillside, like I do, there's this thing called "gravity" which is mighty useful when you want to move gallons of water simply and easily.  But that all came as an after thought; first I got these barrels a few months back.  And they were orange.  So I painted them green.  And I put spigots at the bottom.
This was pretty easy to do, simply drilling the appropriate size hole in the bottom and inserting the spigot.  Unfortunately, the top opening to the barrel was too narrow to fit my fat ass in to screw a nut on the inside.  So I caulked the fitting as best as possible and screwed it in lightly.  Then I added good old Henry's Wet Patch around the exterior seam to make sure they didn't leak.

Once that was done, I cut and fit some screen to go over the top.  Both lids were two piece, one solid round that fits snugly into the screw ring, and then, of course, the threaded screw ring. 
Once the screen was cut I fit it into the lip of the ring and was able to lightly screw that combination onto the barrel.  By doing this most larger debris like sticks, leaves, mosquitoes and flying camel turds will hopefully stay out of the water.

Once all that was done I deployed them up at Chicken Fantasia Land, where I have two small roofs shedding into two small gutters.  I have been routing the water away from the area with three inch flex, which, by the way, scares the hell out of the chickens.  I suppose they think it's some sort of very big, ugly anaconda.  Who knows?  Anyway, I had to do some angular stuff to the downspouts so they would shed into the bucket, but that was simple and easy.  Cut here, suture there.  Then I sat back and waited for some rain.

I didn't have to wait too long.  We started getting rain in October, and I quickly found out those barrels can fill up fast.  We got about 3/4 of an inch and they were about a third full.  The next one and a half inches of rain just about filled them up.  The roofs are only 96 square feet and 56 square feet respectfully, for a teeny weeny combined total of 150 square feet.  Imagine what your house can yield?

I started to think what a waste. I now had a hundred gallons of water and nothing to do with it.  All the plants around the house had been receiving rain, nothing needed watering.  And then I started to cogitate.  That's always dangerous, and usually means more work.  If just a couple inches of water shedding on to those two small roofs yielded that much water, what if I had a larger storage area?  You know, a bigger tank?

And Bernadette, the concept, was born.  But first, I had to cogitate some more.  Considering the location of the two barrels, I figured the ideal area would be downhill from them and off to the side.  You know, back here:
Or over there:
It's a dead area in between the steps that lead up to the chickens and the property line, right next to one of my utility areas where I store very useful crap.  All of that location is being set up so that most of it will be out of view from the house and main living area of the back patio.  Hopefully that back deck and patio situation will get going later next spring.  I will, of course, keep you posted!  (Pun totally intended.)

Once I did the measurements and knew it would fit, excavation began.  Since I am still not quite any where near 100% due to Uncle Wiggley's festive juncture upon my soul, my fabulous son was over to help with the heavy stuff.  The night prior to excavation I was woken up by little project demons who hassled me about the possibility the chosen spot was going to require a little extra work because of a couple prior projects.  It turned out those demons were dead center correct.
That's a live 220 electric line on the left, that's a 3/4 inch water line on the right.  Both head up to the chickens, who knew I would be revisiting the location once again?  Fortunately since I buried both lines I knew pretty much where they were so they weren't accidentally breached.  And fortunately there was enough flex in the 220 line to not have to do much with it.  The water line, however, needed to be rerouted with a couple 45's.  I did them at a slower 33 rpm speed.

I did the angles, my son did the shoveling and wheel barrowing.  All the dirt, about 15 barrows full, went to a specific parking area where another post will be in the making shortly.  It'll be about 8 posts being installed on a hillside, going 3 feet deep in the ground to support a short retaining wall.  Which will safely expand the parking area and help alleviate erosion.  It'll be a post about posts.  On a steep slope.  Who says I don't have any fun around here?

Before we knew it, we had a rerouted water line and a level pad.

Then we tossed down about a half yard of pea gravel for a nice base
and finished up the cinder block planter base which will partially hide the tank.  I will also plant more Phlox, a deer resistant ground cover with bright pink and purple blossoms inside the cinder block this spring.   They will hopefully take off and cover the block.  That's the plan anyway.
As I was working on the pad, I was also figuring out just where the heck I was going to find Bertha.  Or Bernadette.  I was looking at size and price.  I was scouring the internet.  I looked at a few of the local lumber stores.  I was doing an insane amount of research, and then I called an old pal, the GM, over at Byer's Leafguard, where I worked for a few years a few years back.

I am getting some roof material from them for the garden potting shed and I casually mentioned I was looking for a water tank.  Well, one thing led to another and I ended up getting my tank through them.  Here's why:

They offered the same product that was available everywhere.   While their price was $85.00 more than the best price I found on line, they didn't charge a delivery fee of around $350.00.  Even I can do that math.  Plus I was buying local, from friends even, and they delivered and helped roll her to her location for free.

Of course Byer's still does their flagship product, Leafguard gutters, but now they also do roofing and rain barrels apparently.  The products and workmanship are fabulous, and they are also a great bunch of people.  We have had them install both a new lifetime comp roof as well as Leafguard gutters.  If you need anything along that line, check out their site and give 'em a call.  You can tell them I sent you, but they'll probably charge more.

Here's Bernadette where she lay.  That little dent in her side where she rode in the pick up truck will be gone as soon as more water arrives.
There was a pre-stubbed hole at the bottom, I just needed to get the appropriate material at the plumbing store before I started off-loading water into it.  $9.00 and ten minutes later I attached a hose to the bottom of one of my pickle barrels and opened her up.  I had to massage the hose elevation a bit, but Bernadette is set up so that both barrels gravity flow down into her top.  With inches to spare.  She is also positioned so that I can gravity feed from her to plants on the deck and patio.  I also have the option of adding a pump to the situation.  I now have off loaded a minimum of 200 gallons into Bernadette, and it takes very little to do this.  I simply move the hose back and forth between the catch barrels. 

Throughout the summer months I will routinely utilize 5 to 10 gallons of water per day to keep the patio and deck plants wet.  Yeah, it gets that dry and hot here.  Based on those numbers, if I used the maximum, I should have 132 days worth of stored water.  That's almost 5 months.

Now let's do some math.  My old Bud at Byers gave me a formula to work with.  Basically 1 inch of rain on a 1000 square foot of roof area will produce 600 gallons of water. So my 150 square feet should produce around 90 gallons with 1 inch of rain.  Based on that, we will only need around 14 to 15 inches of rain to fill Bernadette.  And all this catch the rain water paraphernalia is out and away from the house.  It's all structured to be as minimally visible as possible, and will be in time.

Now that I am aware so much water can be so easily captured, I have plans to add at least another two tanks, probably 4,995 gallons each.  I have one roof area that's probably 500 square feet that already has an underground line running underneath the lawn and dumping out on the other side of the picket fence.  On a hillside.  The pipe is already a few feet above ground.  All I need to do is dig another pad, add a couple feet of pipe and the tank.  Gravity fed again.  We would only need about 8-9 inches of rain to fill that one.  If the annual normal is 56 inches, shouldn't that be easily attained?

That tank would also be positioned to gravity feed much of the property, as would another that could be strategically placed to receive almost as good a flow.  I wouldn't even have to dig a pad for that one.  That's almost 10,000 gallons of water, without too much hassle at all. 

There's also another potential spot down by the orchard.  Imagine if I placed a 4,995 gallon tank down there.  I could easily have an orchard of 20 trees and not have to worry about well water much at all, even giving them each 10 gallons per week.  That's 200 gallons per week, 800 per month.  Times 6 months.  I really only need to heavily water them 4 months out of the year.  Imagine the water table savings.

As I cogitate away, I believe I could water this entire property all spring and summer without using much well water at all.  Fulfillment of these cogitations might also enable me to go ahead with the vineyard plan I've thought about for the front hillside with perfect southwestern exposure.  It was a halted thought when I realized it would take too much water.  But now I could water the entire vineyard without tapping the well.

I could capture 15-20,000 gallons of rain water without being an eyesore.  For less than $10,000.  Easily.


Homestead Animal Update

It is with heavy heart that I announce our ever so friendly little Speckled Sussex hen, Beatrix, has passed away.  Last week when I went up to "release the hounds", my loving way to state I am letting the girls out of their safe enclosure for the day, I noticed she was laying in the dirt in the corner with her head towards the fence.  Not a good sign.

I picked her up, she was somewhat alert and exhibiting no outward signs of trauma.  All her feathers were intact.  I caressed her back and cooed at her, and then she gave one last gasp and her legs gave one final kick.  And then she died in my arms.  I have no idea why. 

I still have no idea why she died.  If she died of some disease none of the other birds have caught it.  She couldn't have been cold.  The big door of the hen house is closed now for winter and a light comes on inside during the coldest of night.  They are all truly pampered hens. 

All the other girls are doing fine.  We're only getting 1 or 2 eggs per day right now from them slackers, sometimes they deliver a big goose egg.  Which is kinda weird considering they're chickens.

Merry Christmas y'all.  Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Happy Chanukah.   Did I get 'em all?

I hope this holiday gives you as much time as possible to spend with the ones you love.