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  • Watering blueberries with rainwater

    For years I've grown my blueberries with tap water, and about once/week, tap water treated with sulfuric acid and various water soluble fertilizers. And they did well - it was a no-brainer. But we are in a severe drought right now, with water restrictions, and who knows what next year if there is no rain...

    Not only that, but the water we are getting now is of ever decreasing quality - while most was formerly from reservoir water collected from winter rains, now most is from wells with a high mineral content. And it's heavily chlorinated - I can smell it when watering. And my BB plants are suffering. They are getting cholorotic and not as vigorous as they used to be. It was slow in coming, but it is very obvious now on too many of them.

    I had been planning on collecting rainwater this winter, but I've now decided I need to collect more and dedicate it to the blueberries. We got a very brief rain a week ago, getting about a half inch. And from that, I collected about 350 gallons from the modified down-spouts. It was amazing how fast the water was gushing from those things even from a small rain.

    The problem with collecting rain is having enough containers in which to store it, esp over our long, dry summers. I've purchased heavy duty trash cans, and have a couple of those blue barrels, and have a small pond. And other misc containers. I doubt it will be enough (potential of about 1,000 gallons), but even a periodic small rain will allow me to replenish the supplies.

    Since the collection containers are near the downspouts, I move the water around with pond pumps (safe gfi outlet). I even water with the pond pumps and that works just as well as the taps.

    I do now have to figure out a new fertilizing schedule however. I added a bit of chelated iron to my last watering to help green up the plants again.

    If you water your bbs with rainwater, can you share any tips?
    SoCal, zone 10.
    www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

  • #2
    Sounds like a difficult road ahead. A changing water situation won't be easy.

    Rainwater is the easiest way to go. I have about 600 gal storage and usually run out at least once a yr for about 20-30 pots. Usually I run out in winter as that's my dry season. Fortunately that's also the low water use season.

    For your situation I'd think you'd need way more than 1,000 gal to last thru your long dry summer.
    Alpine, Texas 4500ft elevation Zone 7
    http://growingfruit.org/

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    • #3
      From my readings I believe it's encouraged to use a first flush diverter. I don't use one and haven't really seen any negative consequences. With 1/2 or 1 hp pump hand watering is a breeze with one of those long wand sprayers.

      One thing I can recommend is if you link up some barrels be able to isolate one barrel where it sucks out the bottom and discharges to your hose and a circulation line back to that same barrel. Put a valve on both discharges. Use the circulation valve to adjust the pressure to your hose. It also lets the pump run and not dead head until you start using the hose wand. Works well for liquid fertilizing also. This can all be set up for like a Rain Bird Automated Water System. When you get it tuned right you will be surprised how much more time you have to just stare at your plants!

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      • #4
        At this point, none of my rain collection containers are connected. Not sure if they ever will be. I use a very primitive system of diverting downspout water into the next empty container. They fill fast when the rain is steady. If I had to worry about more 'complex' plumbing, I doubt I'd be doing this.

        I am curious about how much water you guys give to each of your blueberry plants in 15 gallon containers. I'm trying to figure out about how much I would ideally need. In the past I've just 'watered' with the hose, but now I need to plan.

        Since I doubt I'll be able to collect enough to last through the summer, I'm also considering using a mix with about 1/3 tap water. Let any chlorine de-gas by sitting over night, then mix with rainwater, and adjust pH if necessary.
        SoCal, zone 10.
        www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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        • #5
          I'd say my 15 gal containers use about 1-1.5 gal per day in summer.
          Alpine, Texas 4500ft elevation Zone 7
          http://growingfruit.org/

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          • #6
            We have a prediction for a wee bit of rain tomorrow. Depending which weather site you look at, between 25 and 70% chance of showers, and maybe 1/4 inch. Not much, but I think enough to at least collect a few trash cans full. If it happens.

            After being watered with some rainwater for a couple weeks, the plants are looking better. But some apparently still need more time to come around from their chlorosis attack.

            To store more rain, I've purchased a smallish 'kiddie pool' that holds about 600 gallons, and mucked out the small pond so it's ready to go. I did put some tap water in it for the goldfish however. About half full. If it happens, this will be a small rainfall, so over the winter I'll be able to change out most of the tap for rain.
            SoCal, zone 10.
            www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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            • #7
              We got our first real rain of the season - about 2 inches, with more predicted for tomorrow. I was able to collect about 1,300 gallons today from the downspouts. I also diverted some of the rain into the garden to soak in. Still need to set up some of the rain collection containers - didn't want empty ones sitting around in our winds. My goal is to harvest about 3 to 3,500 gallons by the end of March.
              SoCal, zone 10.
              www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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              • #8
                The news mentioned 3 systems in the pacific moving toward the west coast. Very good news for drought stricken areas, so I hope more rain is in the forecast.
                Houston, TX Zone 9a

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                • #9
                  I was wondering if you are getting some relief out there Gina.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by m5allen View Post
                    I was wondering if you are getting some relief out there Gina.
                    Not very much relief at all. This was supposed to be a 'Godzilla' of an El Nino year for SoCal, but we have had less rain than last year. Locally only about 5 inches, with only a month or so left of our rainy season. We average about 3 inches in March, so there is hope.

                    I've upped my storage capacity to about 4,000 gallons, but I'm only about half way there. Fortunately this house has a large roof, and I can collect close to 2,000 gallons with an inch of rain. Of course, it has to rain for that to happen, and there are no storms on the horizon. Unfortunately I'm having to use the stored rainwater now to water the blueberries in our high 70s/80*F February weather. We've set several high temps the past few weeks.
                    SoCal, zone 10.
                    www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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                    • #11
                      4000 gallons is very respectable
                      Cutting sales have ended for the season. Plant sales will start March 1 at 8 eastern time. If it is still too cold in your area I can hold your plants till a date of your choosing.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by WillsC View Post
                        4000 gallons is very respectable


                        We had some more rain this week, with more predicted next week. No barn burners, but an inch here, inch there, and it all adds up. I'm still totally amazed at how much rain comes down the spouts off a relatively large roof. I've now collected about 4,500 gallons, and am at near max. Using some questionable containers, I might be able to collect maybe another couple hundred. Not sure it's worth it however.

                        I've simplified the rain collection system. I have 4 downspouts. The water from all 4 is now gravity fed via hoses into an old in-ground spa that holds 400 gallons. Water is pumped from there into various holding containers. It's primitive, but seems to be working well.

                        So.. the rainwater will be for the blueberries, and the grey water will be for the deep mulched veggie garden.

                        I think we will always be under water stress locally. We have been for decades anyway, and more and more people are living here, and more keep coming. We've had 3 notable droughts in my memory, with a bit of flooding in between. We average about 14 inches per year, but yearly amounts are unreliable. Climate change will only continue to make things worse. So storing water for a gardener only makes sense.

                        It's raining right now.
                        SoCal, zone 10.
                        www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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                        • #13
                          My tiny 50 gallon rain barrell was full in just one day (2") of rain in So Cal! We got it set up last year. I sent my receipt into our water departmen "Waterwise" program and got $75 rebate to boot! I wish i could put up another 2 or three barrels but we have a tiny yard so not enough room. But yes, rain water is great...and free! Why did it take me so long to do this?

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by SmyFigs View Post
                            My tiny 50 gallon rain barrell was full in just one day (2") of rain in So Cal! We got it set up last year. I sent my receipt into our water departmen "Waterwise" program and got $75 rebate to boot! I wish i could put up another 2 or three barrels but we have a tiny yard so not enough room. But yes, rain water is great...and free! Why did it take me so long to do this?
                            Why did it take so long? Indeed. I've been wondering the same thing. I've played around a bit with collecting rain in a container here or there, but never seriously. It was just too easy to turn on the tap, and 'back then' the water wasn't nearly as bad as it is now.
                            .................................................. .................................................. .....

                            I've been watering my blueberries with about 70 to 75% rainwater (mixed in trashcans with tap water) since last Sept. Same fertilizer regime, same amounts of water.... BUT...I cannot believe the difference in the health of the plants. The leaves are greener and larger and almost too lush. Not only are the plants visually better, but the fruits are both larger and sweeter. Truly amazing. Must be all that photosynthesis the healthier leaves are able to carry out.

                            Too bad collecting/storing rain is such a pain or I'd do more for the rest of the garden.
                            SoCal, zone 10.
                            www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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                            • #15
                              Wow, Gina, sorry that it took me so long to respond. I guess I havent logged on sonce April?😬 Uts great to hear your blueverries are doing so good. We dont get much rain in CA at alk. We are in a arrious drout.

                              the reason whybit took me so long to get the barrel going is because my husband didnt get to it in like a year or so. i blame my husband for everything that involves a hammer, nails or screws😆 But realky it was deciding on what size & type of system to install. Now all I have to do is wait for rain...,

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                              • #16
                                Looking back at the year, I ended up saving more rainwater than I used for the BBs. We had a couple small freak rains over the summer, so I was able to top off my larger containers. Even a quarter of an inch will allow me to collect maybe 3-400 gallons from the downspouts. And this year, even with modest rains, my largest containers are already topped off. The drought continues here, but at least there should be enough for the blueberries this coming year, assuming I'll be able to top off later in Mar/April.

                                And the plants, having lived of mostly rainwater for the past year, are really looking good.
                                Last edited by Gina; 01-07-2017, 01:35 PM.
                                SoCal, zone 10.
                                www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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                                • #17
                                  2 and a half months later, all my main containers are topped-off. We just got another 3/4 inch the past couple days and I was able to collect another few hundred gallons, plus let some soak into the ground in the garden. I don't know if we'll get any more this year, but I now have about 4,000 gallons again heading into the summer. Last year, even in covered containers, I lost about 10% to evaporation, but still had more than enough for the blueberries over the season. That did include a couple small rains in the summer that allowed for refilling.

                                  Last year I was very frugal with the water and the BB plants probably would have done better with a little more. But I was afraid of running out. I didn;'t, and some stored rain never got used. This year I'll give them a more, and if necessary, water with treated tap water if I run out. Che sera, sera.

                                  The plants are still looking good. And the fruits tasting good, though not as sweet as they should get as the days get longer and warmer.
                                  SoCal, zone 10.
                                  www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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                                  • #18
                                    Gina can you post pictures of your setup? I'd like to see, here are pictures of mine, it's about 700 gallons I use mostly for the blueberries and strawberries.
                                    You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 2 photos.
                                    Zone 9a

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                                    • don_sanders
                                      don_sanders commented
                                      Editing a comment
                                      Ooh, I need one of those big tanks!

                                  • #19
                                    Sorry, no pictures. My system is more primitive than yours. I love those large tanks, but to collect the amount of rainwater I want, I went with using above ground kiddy ponds, then covering them with plastic floating 'insulating' pool covers cut to size, then covered by a tarp. You can get these in various sizes. I am not sure how long they will last. I'm hoping a few years if only used to hold water. To get the water to the blueberries I use a submersible pump stuck in the pool, and a garden hose.

                                    I have 4 downspouts. Each has been modified to redirect the water to the back yard with a gravity feed. In the backyard, I have an old concrete inground spa that holds about 400 gallons that all the water is redirected in to. Without this spa, my system would not work as easily. As the 'spa' fills, I then 'send' the water to which-ever pool I am filling. If a storm is approaching, I make sure the spa is mostly empty so if rain falls at night, I don't lose. I never totally empty it because I keep a few goldfish in it for mosquito larvae.

                                    To move the water from the 2 furthest downspouts, I also use trashcans which are situated on stands about 2 feet off the ground. Downspout water flows into these. I made a hole near the bottom of each to which I attached a hose-end 'repair' thing, and caulked it,, to which I can attach a regular garden hose for the water to flow via gravity to the backyard. This works surprisingly well. These are very long hoses.

                                    The two downspouts that are closer, I don't use trashcans as intermediate collectors, but rather larger hoses. Sump pump types and a bit of creativity...

                                    The roof is about 3,000 sq feet, and after the first tenth of an inch to get the roof wet, I can collect about 200 gallons for each additional tenth of an inch. That amount still surprises me.

                                    I wish I had a really large containers like yours to collect more, but they are not only expensive for as much as I would want, but I think there are probably local ordinances that would prohibit large tanks in a residential area, even in the back yard. Just guessing on that one.
                                    SoCal, zone 10.
                                    www.ourfigs.com Invite your friends.

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                                    • #20
                                      if you have to fall back on city water, there's a trick with chlorine. it easilly dissapates into the air.
                                      fill a barrel. the next day, go smell it. you will notice much less odor.
                                      i usually let it sit 2 days.
                                      susie,
                                      burner of trees
                                      high plains, maybe zone 7.

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