I’ve long had a dream of a small fruit tree orchard where I could grow things and learn more about them. I used to have two concerns that stopped me. One concern was watering those fruit trees. They aren’t like a garden – well, they are, but MUCH bigger and year round so they will require a lot of water. Since I’ve learned about rainwater collection and gained some experience with it, I decided I could expand my rainwater collection enough to overcome that concern. The other concern was enough protected space to build a proper orchard space. Fruit trees need lots of sunlight. With a recent drought in Texas and the loss of some Cedar Elm trees, I finally had enough open space for an orchard! No time like the present to get started building my rainwater collection and fruit tree orchard!
Front of House Rainwater Collection
My fruit tree orchard is going to need a lot of water. I currently collect the back half of my house so I needed to add rainwater collection from the front of my house to provide the extra water that the fruit trees will need. Piping that collected rainwater from the front of the house to the back of the house was a challenge!
Rainwater Collection Sump and Overflow Drainage
I only have 4000 gallons of rainwater storage and that’s not enough for the fruit tree orchard – especially since I’m going to expand my square foot garden as well. I don’t have enough room for extra storage under my deck so I’m going to pipe the front of house rainwater collection into my overflow pipe and just let it run down the hill for now. Later, once I sort out the actual water needs of the fruit tree orchard, I’ll install a much larger rainwater holding tank near the fruit tree orchard.
Soil Testing for Fruit Tree Orchard
Although I now have plenty of open space to plant my fruit tree orchard, I want to make sure that the soil is not terrible. I’m sure there are better places to plant an orchard but what I have is mine and I want to use it to it’s full capacity. SO, I ran soil tests at multiple locations throughout the orchard area. This was actually a LOT of work but very informative. In most cases, the soil is fine for pH, Phosphorous and Potassium. It is almost all deficient in Nitrogen but my understanding is that this is typical and not a huge barrier to using the soil.
Soil Nitrogen Test
The soil in my fruit tree orchard is definitely nitrogen deficient. I have elected NOT to apply any fertilizers until after the first year when I will have a better understanding of how the trees I select will perform in the soil I have.
Clearing and Burning for Fruit Tree Orchard
The open space for my fruit tree orchard used to look like the dead forest in the background of this picture. Most of the large Cedar Elm trees had died during the 2008 drought but needed to be cut and then roots dug. Digging roots is very very hard so I elected to burn mine. I drilled multiple 1″ holes deep into the trunk and filled them with a potion that consisted of salt peter – Potassium Nitrate. The Potassium Nitrate combines with the decomposing carbon of the wood fibers to form a very low grade gunpowder. This low grade gun powder provide oxygen when the fire is burning deep inside the stump and ashes cover the top – this allows the stump to continue burning for longer. It was hard but it was fun – most stumps burned for more than 48 hours!
More Burned Stumps
Even after the stumps were burned, a lot of stump still remained in the ground. At least now, they individual roots were no longer connected together and I could us a tractor with a plow to gently tug them loose. There was much more stump in the ground that I would have imagined!
Deep Plowing the Fruit Tree Orchard
The soil in my fruit tree orchard is mostly hard clay. The clay retains and drains water nicely but is very dense. I used a deep plow very gently right on the rows where I wated to plant fruit trees to loosen the soil as much as 16″ in the ground. I hope the little fruit trees appreciate this extra touch!
Ready to Plant Fruit Tree Orchard
Deer are a problem at my house so I needed a way to protect the fruit trees from browsing while they grow and from depredation when the bear fruit. I also needed the solution to be affordable and easy to work with and clean. I used some old sheep fence wire, 3 t-posts and a short piece of hog panel wire to rig up cages for each fruit tree.
Bare Root Plants for Fruit Tree Orchard
I planted bare root plant and that was very interesting. I planted 15 fruit trees and 15 berry vines. Each tree was a grafted plant.
Pear Tree Roots
This is the detail of my Orient Pear tree as I planted it and a great example of a bare root tree. I was instructed to remove 1/3 of the roots and 1/3 of the main stem along with any branches. Man, it was scary when I got through cutting them down to size!
Soaking Vines Before Planting
I soaked the roots of each fruit tree and berry vine before planting for 24 hours in a solution of root vigorizer. This stuff smelled terrible!
Fruit Tree Orchard Planted!
I got the 15 fruit trees and 15 berry vines planted just in time. It was more work than I expected but I am very proud of how it turned out.
Summary of Rainwater Collection Addition for Fruit Tree Orchard
I’ve always wanted a fruit tree orchard and my growing expertise with rainwater collection finally provided me with an opportunity. I planted 15 bare root fruit trees and 15 berry vines in a large area I cleared in my lower backyard. It was much harder than I originally thought but the results have been very pleasing so far – stay tuned for more updates!
Last year’s raised bed garden that I feed from my rain water collection system ended the season nicely. I experimented with “survival” seeds while they performed adequately, I DO think we’re in trouble if we have to feed ourselves from non-hybrid heritage seeds. It was very evident how plant hybridization and breeding have been influenced by the modern grocery store consumer. The fruits and vegetables from my “survival” seeds were smaller, misshapen and less tasty than fruits and vegetables grown from hybrid seeds or purchased in the store. I did save and dry some of the seeds for planting this season to see if they live up to the promise of heritage seeds.
The Right Mix of Rainwater and Raised Bed Garden
I’m very pleased with my rain water collection system feeding my raised bed garden. I use square foot gardening techniques in my raised bed garden and as you can see, it is very bountiful! It literally sips water and my 1000 gallon rain water collection tank never even got close to running dry – and it was a very dry Summer last year. I use a hose bib timer and turn on the drip irrigation twice daily for 10 to 15 minutes. Each plant has a different emitter that is calibrated to how much water the plan type needs. After many years of abject failure with the deck container garden, it is delightful to have a raised bed garden that performs well – especially in that it is fed from my rain water collection system.
Survival Seeds and the Next Generation
I gave a try to survival seeds last year and had less than successful results but they weren’t a complete failure either. I dried a couple ears of corn and some melons to try this year. They’re in the ground in my raised bed garden but seem to be lagging behind the other, hybrid corn I planted at the same time. Again, if SHTF and we have to depend on heritage seeds, food is not going to be as easily available or plentiful as we’ve become accustomed to.
Thwarting the Deer Who Want in my Garden
I have a lot of deer in my area and since they aren’t hunted they think they have free reign to pillage my garden. My stupid big dog does as well when she needs a snack between the limited meals I feed her to manager her weight. I found a very nice little solar powered electric fence controller and put in a very simple two wire electric fence around my raised bed garden. It’s worked very well thus far – I have a small game camera on the garden as well – and I’ve been pleased. As long as I remember to switch it off before hoping the fence, I’ll be fine.
Rain Drip Irrigation Main Hose
I’m using the same rainwater collection system to power my drip irrigation system – no changes from last year. My drip irrigation system is fed by a large 1000 gallon rain water collection tank through a hose bib timer. When the valve is open, water flows through a large U shaped main hose that then feeds smaller hoses and emitters for each square foot section of my raised bed garden. This allows me the flexibility I like to vary flow rates for each different plant type during it’s growth and fruiting cycle and keeps it simple enough that it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance or have a bunch of breakage.
Sixty Days into a Garden Season
I got off to an early start this year by planting in mid March before Spring Break. We had an uncommonly cool and wet Spring this year and I may have planted a bit early. So much for getting a jump on Mother Nature. Nevertheless, the tomatoes and cucumbers in the middle are going big guns and the corn on the ends is struggling along. Some of the corn is doing very well but that’s not the survival corn. The survival corn is on the near left corner and is well behind all of the others. I’m not holding out great hopes for it even with plenty of water from my rain water collection system.
Rainwater Collection Expansion!!
I have a single 1000 gallon rainwater collection tank and that has served me very well to support my 8′ x 4′ square foot garden. But, I have a LOT more roof to collect rainwater from and plenty of room for additional tanks so I’m expanding my water storage tanks from 1000 gallons to 4000 gallons! As you can see, the tanks are large and bulky but not heavy at all. It does require a trailer though.
Big Rainwater Tanks
I use 1000 gallon rain water collection tanks. I selected this size primarily so that they will fit easily under my deck at the back of my house. My dad has a much larger, 15,000 gallon rainwater collection tank but his is a more elaborate system that was designed to provide drinkable water directly into his taps in the house. My rainwater collection system is designed to collect and store water for my garden, my new duck pond and for emergency drinking purposes through a portable filtration system.
Site Pads for Collection Tanks
Getting the rainwater collection tanks level and stable is very important. 1000 gallons of water weighs a LOT and if the ground underneath the tanks is unstable or not level, they can cause some big headaches. I use crushed granite pads to build a stable base for each rainwater collection tank. My hunting dog likes the new cool dirt.
Rain Water Harvesting Tanks Installed
Once the tank pads are set, it is relatively simple to maneuver the rainwater collection tanks into their proper place. It is important that the tanks are mostly in a straight line. Last year’s tank is plumbed and feeding my rainwater collection system drip irrigation system. When I went to begin plumbing the new tanks, I noticed that the original tank is not perpendicular to it’s outflow pipe and this will cause leaks when I try to connect the original tank to the new tanks. But, the original tank is full of water, too heavy to adjust and I need the water for the raised bed garden. So, I’m going to delay plumbing the new tanks until I finish this year’s gardening season and can drain it an plumb all of the tanks properly. Every time it rains, I realize again just how much water I’m NOT collecting in my rainwater collections system.
Rainwater Line Leak
I noticed a suspicious moist spot on the ground where I had run my main water line from my rainwater collection tanks to my raised bed garden. I hoped for a few days that it was just a low spot in the ground but then I noticed that a mud hole was being created just off to the side. The original trench wasn’t perfectly straight and there was a little bit of tension on the PVC coupler at a joint in that very spot. I’m not sure why it waited this long to start leaking. The real indicator was that my rainwater collection tank was draining water much faster than it ever had before. When I saw that I knew I had a leak.
Yeah, That Needs Fixin’
Yeah, not only does my main line from my rainwater collection system have a leak, it’s in a low spot that easily fills with and hold rain so getting it to dry out so I can pinpoint the leak is a real challenge. In in the interim, I’ve run a garden hose from the rainwater collection tank to my raised bed garden that bypasses the buried PVC. There is a flexible connection available so I’m going to give it a try to see if it solve the problem – soon, real soon now…..
Summary of Rainwater Collection and New Raised Bed Garden
My raised bed garden that is watered from my rainwater collection system did very well last year. I ended the season with a bountiful garden. My trial run at survival seeds was less than successful but wasn’t a complete failure. The second part of the test will be to plant seeds from last years crop. My drip irrigation system, which is fed from my rainwater collection system continues to work very well. It works so well that I’m expanding my water tank holding capacity to 4000 gallons. Installing the tanks is the easy part – getting them properly plumbed is a challenge that will have wait until this fall. As with any system, there will be problems and I have a leak in the line running from my rainwater collection system to my raised bed garden that powers my drip irrigation system – gotta get that thing fixed….
My rainwater collection system to power the drip irrigation on my square foot garden is working very well. I have a 1000 gallon tank for rain water harvesting that sits approximately 20 feet higher uphill in elevation than my garden and the hose bib pressure is more than adequate to drive an inexpensive drip irrigation system. I was concerned that the rainwater collection would not provide sufficient pressure to water the raised bed garden so I’m very pleased with the initial results. I’m very pleased with this particular use of my rainwater collection system.
Rainwater Collection Drip Irrigation Working
I configured a rainwater collection system pipe to my raised bed garden. I planted my square foot raised bed garden with heritage seeds from a survival seed bank along with a few commercial tomato plants and basil plants. The seeds responded well to the square foot garden approach and the tomatoes went nuts! I allocated about a cup of water per day from my rainwater collection system through the rain drip irrigation system and that seemed to be more than sufficient to get the seeds to germinate properly. For bigger rainwater collection systems for your garden use, you can consult rainwater tanks experts at http://www.supatank.com.au.
Harvesting Rainwater to Feed Garden Plants
Each square in my raised bed square foot garden has a drip irrigation emitter that is filled by harvesting rainwater from the roof of my house. I can vary the flow of each emitter to increase or decrease the amount of daily rain water supplied to each square in the raised bed garden. Some plants are doing very well but I planted some leafy vegetable seeds too early and the Texas Summer heat is not serving them very well. Harvesting rainwater can only solve a portion of the challenges with a raised bed garden. The experiment with the rainwater collection system is working very nicely – a nice change from last year’s failed experiment.
Rain Water Harvesting Drives Drip Irrigation Emitters
I use a drip timer at the end of the hose from the rain water harvesting system to control the daily water flow into the rain drip irrigation system in the square foot garden. The timer is set to allow water to flow for a few minutes each day at 6PM. I’ve measured the flow rate controlled by the emitters with a gallon jug and the pressure from the rainwater collection system is adequate to provide an accurate water flow into my rainwater collection system and out to each specific plant.
Summary of Rainwater Collection Powering Drip Irrigation in a Square Foot Garden
I installed a rainwater collection system to collect rain water from the roof of my house. The rain water harvesting system feeds my rain drip irrigation system nicely and the water pressure is more than adequate to power my rain drip irrigation system. I planted a mix of commercial plants and heritage seeds and they are performing nicely with sufficient water from harvesting rainwater. The emitters in my rain drip irrigation system are variable and the flow check out accurately. This has turned out to be a very nice use of a rain water collection system and is saving me quite a bit of money on my water bill each month.
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Rainwater collection is key to developing a semi-sustainable garden. Read about our first forays into a deck container garden and why growing your own food is a great idea for anyone here.