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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Saving rainwater good for our vegetable garden, Earth

Midweek and rainy, the boy worried that his new sport, tennis, would be canceled.

The forecast was not good. On Wednesday, when it poured from Florida to Maine, USA Today threw out the figure that 2 trillion gallons of water would fall, an average of 3 inches over 370,000 square miles. (The estimate came from the U.S. Geological Survey.)

Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of water.

Pensacola, Fla., got two feet of rain in two days. In our area, we were expecting less than the 3-inch average, but enough to put us on flood watch.

Right now, I welcome our rain. The soil’s getting a nice pre-planting soak, the rainwater stock tanks are filling up again, now that the winter ice is out of them.

We expect wet times and dry times, and try to store some water during those wet times to use when it’s dry. Most of the stock tank water is for our beasts — the big ox, baby oxen-to-be, the chickens and ducks.


Early in the garden season, we dip watering cans in the tanks to soak in new seedlings that have just been transplanted. For the bigger plants, we generally don’t water, trusting that their roots are deep enough to draw stored water from the ground.

I know not watering your vegetable garden is unusual, and we can do it mostly because we have built up the soil enough over the years with our ready supply of composted manure from those beasts already mentioned. That holds moisture and encourages the plants to reach deep with their roots.

During very dry spells in midsummer, we might find ourselves hauling watering cans to the home garden. And there have been a few times over the years when it was so dry we had to take a few 50-gallon drums down to the lake, pump them full of water, then take them over to remote gardens that needed a boost.

But mostly we let the soil we’ve built take care of the plants.

We are also lucky to have garden soil that drains well, so that even heavy rains don’t cause pooling in our gardens. Well, luck plus 20-odd years of amending the soil with manure, has turned what was sandy soil to a rich, black loam.

That soil protects us, at least right at home, from the vagaries of the weather. But that’s just a tiny slice of the globe that we’re protecting.

The 2 trillion gallons of rain that might have fallen Wednesday could just be spring storms. But our storms seem to be getting more severe, with more rain, more damaging winds. The weather extremes seem to be becoming more extreme.

rainfall on rise

The federal Environmental Protection Agency — not exactly an extremist organization — projects that worldwide, average rainfall will continue to increase through the end of the century, “although changes in the amount and intensity of precipitation will vary by region.”

In the northern United States it will become wetter, the EPA says, while the Southwest will likely become drier. And heavy rains will become more frequent, the EPA says: “Heavy downpours that currently occur about once every 20 years are projected to occur about every four to 15 years by 2100, depending on location.”

In the past few years, right here at home we’ve seen the massive effects of hurricanes Irene and Lee and “superstorm” Sandy.

Those kinds of storms will be more common in the future, climate projections tell us. And we are not doing enough to stop change from happening.

In mid-April, a U.N. climate panel released a report with dire warnings: Governments worldwide have been so reluctant to make changes that climate-impacting greenhouse gases continue to rise.
The group — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of hundreds of scientists and economists — found that the CO2 emissions rose twice as fast from 2000-2010 than they in previous decades.

good news

The good news, according to a New York Times article on the report, is that there’s still time for the world to get together and make changes to limit warming. But do we have the will to do that?

Climate change could mean more storms or more extreme weather — wetter periods and drier periods. It could impact the world’s ability to grow food, because of flooding and because of drought.
In our own homes and our own gardens, we can take our own little steps, finding ways to use less power, less poison, less water. Finding our own ways not to further damage the world.

That might mean driving less, carpooling more, planting more of our own food, limiting how much electricity we use, or saving rainwater for our gardens.

One person, one garden can’t change the world. But all of us, working together, just might.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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