Rainwater efficiency vs. Rainwater Collection

A few years back, we were all learning a fundamental thing about investing in clean energy. That lesson was that energy efficiency investments were far more profitable than investments in new generation, even if it is green.

It strikes me that the same argument is developing for rainwater collection. Is it smarter to invest in collecting more rainwater in a cistern, or is is smarter to first invest in systems that will use less water. I am talking mainly about our sprinkler and some irrigation systems. They can waste lots of valuable water and that is not the worst of it. Rainwater is sweet and there is nothing better. On the other-hand, the intent of potable water is to guarantee that we have water without harmful bacteria. That means every water utility in the country is treating their water supply with chlorine (if you are lucky, chloramines which are far more persistent if you are not).

Working with microbes has created an interesting perspective for me. One of the lessons that we learned early on is that you never make compost tea with city water. Rain water is ideal, well water is second best. When we make compost tea with city water, the anti-microbial agents such as chlorine and chloramines prevent any development of the compost tea microbes. The goal with compost tea is to get an exponential multiplication of the microbes over a 24 hr period of time. When you start with well water you get much better results as measured under a microscope. When you use rain water, you get double the volume of microbes as compared to well water. BIG difference.

When we water our yards with city water, the chloramines (in the City of Austin, we use chloramines), are not helping the development of the microbes in the soil. The more city water you add to the soil, the more difficult this problem becomes. The problems become very pronounced during droughts. The soil becomes harder. It doesn’t hold the water nearly as well as previously. Water evaporates from the surface more easily and it seems like you need to water more and more often. This will become very frustrating during Phase 3 drought restrictions.

So, rainwater is clearly the best. But do you go and spend $10,000 or even $30,000 to store enough rainwater on your property to last between the wet periods (which can be > 12 months)? What about investing in the soil instead? Reduce the need for rainwater collection. Reduce the need for city water which is not intended for growing the microbes in your soil. Have you noticed the difference between watering your yard for 3 months with city water, and then how the yard performs after a rain? In an ideal world we would do both,; invest in a large rainwater catchment system and do everything we can to help our soil store rainwater.

By focusing on rainwater efficiency, we are focusing on the natural function of our soils. We are using microbes, soil testing, carbon/mulch covers and compost to create more soil porosity. There is more water holding capacity in the pores of our soils than anywhere else, including our trees. How about capturing that rain water right away in the soil rather than in a tank and then having to get out the hoses and hand water the plants!

If you want to know more, check out our compost at the various retail locations or visit the soil amendments page on our website. People are getting excited about our improvements in compost quality and pricing. We are making the best compost in Central Texas and you can tell by running it through your hands. Apply 5 gallons to a 4′ x 4′ area and mix it into the soil. Always cover your soil with several inches of mulch. With typical compost you need to add more to your garden beds every year. Our compost quality doesn’t need replenishment to the extent that other lower quality compost does, however we ask that you care for the microbes in it by adding compost tea. Use the compost tea as a soil drench, 1 quart of compost tea/extract at least 2x per year..Need a lower price? Use just compost tea alone at a minimum rate of 1 gallon per 10,000 square feet, diluted and applied with a watering can, approximately 6 times per year. Try to get the compost tea in direct contact with the soil, such as at the start or end of the winter dormant period.

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