Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Progress Report...

Today is Earth Day '09 and I woke up determined to spend some time in the garden to celebrate. I've had a couple projects in the works and it seemed appropriate to complete them and begin to utilize them as I finished. 

I've been working on adding an additional bed to our main garden area (located on the south side of the home) but, it was progressing slowly and, as I built up the walls out of stone, rather unstable. So I began the day by rearranging some of the stone work and building the walls a touch higher than they were when I woke up. The bulk of the stone is reclaimed off of building sites and client's properties where I work my "day job" and so, comes in various sizes and compositions. Most of that which we use is either granite or sandstone. We also have one very large piece of volcanic basalt that I brought home from a business trip to Flagstaff, AZ. 

I spent some hour or so in arranging the bits and pieces until satisfied and then moved on to filling the bed with soil. That we got when we excavated around the window wells of the home's basement. We had expanded the wells and lined with a sandstone retaining wall a couple of year's ago and thus, had a large pile of "waste earth" that we kept in an ugly pile on the other side of the house. It took approximately a dozen wheel barrow loads to fill the new bed and I have the blisters to prove it. I have reclaimed the vast majority of that soil in our gardening projects and spent considerable time conditioning it. The make up of our suburban Colorado home's soil is clay based. Thick, sticky and darn near impenetrable. So we have tilled the earth with a lot of compost, manure, mulch and some play sand. By early afternoon, I had the bed ready to go and had applied water to help it settle into itself, helping to stabilize the retaining wall. 

Having finished that project (and gaining some major points with my wife) it was time to apply myself to finishing a project I began a couple of weeks ago. This one was of a completely different flavor. I have wanted to build a proof of concept water storage system. Nothing huge, nothing fancy and, in Colorado, totally illegal. That's right. Illegal. Colorado is bound by some of, if not the most, strict water rights laws in the nation and any sort of water storage and most diversion is frowned on. Ostensibly, all water, even that which flows from our gutters is to be left unhindered to flow into the water table. My personal feeling is that while our arid climate requires legislation, simple, small projects that don't actually prevent water from returning to the cycle but, instead, provide for short term storage and non potable reuse should be encouraged rather than discouraged. 

With that said, I had salvaged a fifty five gallon, plastic drum from a construction site some time back. I knew when it was given to me exactly how I wanted to utilize it. I proudly brought home my find only to have my wife tell me how ugly she thought the bright blue barrel was. So aesthetics were going to be a major concern. I knew that the barrel was gonna need some work to make it usable but, color wasn't something I had thought about. The first step in building the cistern into something usable was to research what others had done before me. I'm a big fan of efficiency and figure that Google is my best friend in avoiding mistakes by learning from other's experience. I found a great, easy tutorial at this site that spelled out how to go about it. Following the instructions, I have built out basically the exact same rig and at minimal expense. The one big difference is that I had to make the thing at least reasonably good looking or risk facing the wrath of Nicole. I purchased three cans of faux rock textured spray paint ($8.50 each at Ace Hardware!) and set to transforming my barrel. As it turns out, three cans didn't cut it and I had to hit it again with two more in order to get reasonable coverage. I also went a bit further than the tutorial by using the existing opening (about three inches diameter) on the top of the barrel to allow for venting. This would provide some oxygen to the water stored (hopefully preventing funky stagnation) as well as allow for heat to escape. Without it, I'm afraid I'd be building a solar thermal heat trap and end up irrigating the new garden bed with the equivalent of tea. I covered the port with two layers of fine mesh (paint strainer) to keep out the creepy crawlies. So today, I "finished" it by completing the paint, adding the strainers and a simple spigot and setting it up under a gutter. I was also smart enough to keep it relatively out of sight by placing it behind a fence. My understanding is that if I get caught or ratted out by a neighbor, I'm looking at a minimum $100 fine. Yikes!

I have every intention of going even further with the collection system by adding a modicum of electronics to it. I simply can't leave well enough alone. So the goal is to build up a sensor network through out the garden this year and hopefully,  place all the data into a website dedicated to the data. Sensors I intend to use include a handful of soil moisture probes, several temperature sensors (for ambient air, soil and compost temps), humidity sensor, light sensors to track sunlight and more. I also intend to add temperature, water level sensors in the barrel and also automate a solenoid that will then release the water as needed into the new bed. If all goes well, you'll be able to read about the electronics here and at my other blog, Tony No One in the very near future. 

So that's all for this entry. I trust that you also celebrated Earth Day appropriately and here's to productive gardening!

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