Author: Terra Reed

Rainwater Cisterns Installed at DOT Garden

A keystone element of sustainability is water conservation and, for a desert garden, rainwater collection is paramount. The DOT Garden in collaboration with Adaptive Terrain Systems (a Division of Soilutions), New Mexico Water Collaborative, and the ABC Water Utility Authority designed and installed 3 systems for rainwater harvesting and use.

So how do you begin a rainwater harvesting project?

With lots of questions, planning, and ideas. Research, reading the work of Brad Lancaster, online videos, and the guidance of local experts are all really helpful too. It helps to answer some basics like: How big is the roof? How much water can I use? Is there an overflow plan? Is the water for plants, animals or people? How does this catchment fit in with the big picture for the space now and in the future?

Really great news for all of us!

The New Mexico Water Collaborative is updating a rainwater collection guide for our region. It will have loads of information, installation stories and plans from right here in Albuquerque, plus links to installers, gutter companies, and more. The complete DOTG cistern project will be included here. The Guide should be available spring 2016 in print form and online. Keep checking here FMI: http://nmwatercollaborative.org/projects/rainwater-harvesting-project/

DOTG cistern installation project overview

We installed three rainwater collection systems: cistern #1 in May in the courtyard, and cisterns #2 & #3 in August near our raised bed area. Taking advantage of summer monsoons, we used rain catchment from #1 to irrigate vegetables, supply water for our greenhouse starts, brew compost tea, and supplement a small pond that is home to fish, frogs, and a water source for birds and insects. Cisterns #2 & #3 are serving our major food production area, which includes 9 raised beds and 4 sunken beds devoted to the cultivation of vegetable and grain crops, as well as 10 mature pine trees, and a cover cropped Meadow.

Some cool design features and photos

Cisterns are 1,650 gallons each, about 5’8” tall, 24’ around, and made of heavy duty black cross-linked polyethylene that has been proved to be algae and mold resistant. (Sourced from Phil Monfette, www.ineedawatertank.com )

#1 basic cistern view

We used inexpensive crusher fine, packed down as a substrate and a level pad for the cisterns. (Sourced from Vulcan Materials Company,  www.vulcanmaterials.com )

#2 pad prep crusher fine tamping

To exclude sunlight from making algae and bacteria grow inside the cisterns:

For cistern #1, we updated an existing system which did not have vertical clearance for a bend in the downflow to reduce/eliminate sun from entering the cistern. We had to make an “internal downspout shade” – a small angled piece of metal was screwed into the downspout.

#3 sunshade

For cisterns #2 and #3: Simple elbow-bend in downspout so sunlight cannot enter from above.

(All our guttering repairs and new installations were done by ABQ Gutter Pros, Inc., David Palsce, 505-345-1640.)

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Bulkhead fittings on Cistern #1 are really durable and tight fitting. From Banjo brand valves and fittings( http://www.banjovalves.com )

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Frost-free spigot for gravity outflow at base: Designed by Jim Brooks, this experimental design uses a vacuum breaker, extra long internal pipe, and is tilted toward the outside to prevent freezing. This should allow us to keep water in the cisterns over the winter so that rainwater is available for early spring planting. We may even be able to use it all winter in our row-covered beds. We’ll keep you posted.

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Utility-pump assisted outflow from the bulkhead near the top: A standard utility pump is lowered into the tank, rests on the bottom of tank with the pump hose quick-connected to the junction in the vertical hatch area, then standard garden hose is connected for a low-flow pumping outflow. We’ve even got electrical cord dry-connection options on Cisterns #2 and #3 if we want to keep the pumps in longer term.

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Custom-designed easy-to-lift downspout connection to the cistern inflow. We needed a connection that was easy to move by kids and adults and we got it! This way we can check easily clean the filter basket, look for biological growth (that we don’t want), and access the pump outflow quick-connect.

#8 custom fittings from downspout

Our OverFlow Plans are fantastic! The internal system is a bit complex but basically allows rainwater inside the cistern to run into internal ABS pipes near the top and then water comes out near the bottom.

#9 inside pipe view

The surge basins, swales and sponges were designed by Tiana Baca, our Garden Manager and permaculturist, with guidance from Adaptive Terrain Systems. All these systems are working really well.

#10 swale for courtyard cistern

Special thanks to the Project Learning Tree Greenworks and William H. and Mattie Wattis Harris for funding this project, Whole Foods Academy for lunches, Jim Brooks and his crews, the participants in our August installation, and all our community volunteers. We got RAINWATER!

International Visitors to the DOT Garden

On Thursday, we had international visitors in the DOT Garden. Sarah Montgomery, Director of The Garden’s Edge, a local non-profit, brought two farmers that she works with in Rabinal, Guatemala. These farmers, Maria Elena and Julian, showed us how they process amaranth, a grain that is critical to their community – in addition to being yummy and super healthy!

Two 7th graders harvesting amaranth at last year's harvest Festival.
Two 7th graders harvesting amaranth at last year’s harvest Festival.

In the DOT Garden, we have grown amaranth because it is a drought-hardy, healthy, and beautiful plant. However, the tiny seeds can be very hard to separate from the rest of the plant after harvesting.

Maria Elena and Julian have a lot of practice winnowing the tiny seeds from the chaffe for both seed saving and food production, and they shared their skills with 8-9 and 6th grade Environmental Club students, as well as a few of our volunteers and friends.

We learned a few important tricks about amaranth:

  • It is much better to harvest amaranth when it is fresh – not dried, as it gets prickly when it dries. When it is fresh you can use your hands to get most of the seeds out of the flowers. If you do dry, you have to do the “amaranth dance” to loosen the seeds (our students ended up having fun with the amaranth dance, although Maria Elena cautioned us that they never do this in Guatemala because then you shouldn’t use it for food).
Students doing the Amaranth Dance to separate seeds from dried amaranth.
Students doing the Amaranth Dance to separate seeds from dried amaranth.
  • You can easily winnow the seeds from the lighter bits of plant using wind or a fan, which Julian was an expert at! Hopefully our 7th graders can do it as gracefully for Harvest Festival on October 2nd.
Julian showing us how to winnow amaranth.
Julian showing us how to winnow amaranth.
  • Amaranth can be used in many ways! You can put the seeds in just about anything, but it is best when popped, which Maria Elena showed us how to do – over high heat and with no oil. All of our students were excited to try the popped amaranth, which was “like miniscule popcorn!” The popped amaranth can be used in cereal bars, on ice cream, or, it seemed, in just about anything. The seeds can be cooked for morning cereal or ground into flour!
6th grade students tasting popped amaranth while Maria Elena demonstrated the popping process.
6th grade students tasting the popped amaranth while Maria Elena demonstrated the popping process.
  • Amaranth is incredibly healthy. It is high in protein and contains complete amino acids. Maria Elena tells us that amaranth aids memory and cognitive function (a nice brain boost for our students in the middle of the day!). In Guatemala, they use amaranth for healthy snacks, especially for pregnant women and young children, in order to prevent childhood malnutrition.

Sarah’s story of working in Guatemala is a wonderful one, and we encourage you to check it out on their website. Working with farmers like Julian and Maria Elena, Sarah helped start a farmer’s collective in Rabinal called Qachuu Aloom “Mother Earth” Association. They work especially with women, many of whom were widowed over the course of Guatemala’s long civil war. Over the years, they have gone from collecting a few heirloom seeds to hundreds of gardens, a scholarship program for young girls, a micro-lending program, and the most recent addition, a maternal health and nutrition program that also trains young people to conduct health assessments on the young children in their community! It is a very impressive organization and we were so lucky to have them share their time with us!