Thursday, May 11, 2023

Reporter shares my passion for rainwater basins

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows how passionate I am about our rainwater harvesting catchment basins. I've been known to share the benefits with anyone who strolls by our yard. I even started a #lovemyrainbasin campaign to promote them. 

If you're looking for a way to conserve water, putting in catchment basins to water native plants is one of the most effective and affordable things you can do. Sure, covering your yard with gravel and drought tolerant cactus and agaves saves water, too. But there are more productive uses for that space that actually enhance our desert environment. With a little love and care, you can create a shady habitat to enjoy the frolicking birds or glean delicious food from your own edible forest.

I recently had the opportunity to share my basins with Clara Migoya, a reporter with the Arizona Republic, who had read about our campaign. 

Spurred on by the water crisis, a few reporters have done mini-stories on our rainwater harvesting features. While I excitedly pointed out the benefits of our basins, they inevitably zoomed in on our rain tanks. So it was refreshing chatting with an environmental reporter who seemed genuinely interested. 

After the usual interview questions, I showed off how our gutters and downspout direct rain into the long basin that nourishes our three jujube trees (Chinese fruit trees). I explained how Dan had to remove a hedge of ugly, aging oleanders before digging the basin and planting the saplings. The tree on the far end grew four times faster than the two that were planted where the oleander had poisoned the soil. Clara snapped pictures as I pointed out how the native grasses slowed down the water, keeping it from washing away the mulch and organic matter. The roots of those grasses also allowed the water to sink in and helped build healthy soil. The basins soaked in so much rainwater, that I haven't had to water the jujube trees this spring. And the two smaller trees have grown nearly as big as the tallest tree! 

The next stop was the right of way basin. Dan rooted out the bermuda grass that had taken over the area, and dug basins around higher mounds where we planted moringa seeds and a wolfberry plant. He filled the basin with woodchip mulch (that has since broken down into soil). And we planted native bunch grass to help the water infiltrate and prevent erosion. Along with the mulch and other organic matter, it creates a sponge to hold the moisture longer.

Three moringa trees, a wolfberry, Mexican honeysuckle, a volunteer desert broom and some wild flowers provide sustenance for a variety of pollinators. We harvest the moringa leaves to add nutrition to various dishes and dry them to make a healthy tea. 

The moringa trees die every winter during a hard freeze. But they come back from the roots in the spring. Native grasses really did their job here. So much water sunk in from the rainy season that we haven't had to water them so far. During a rainstorm the water will continue sinking in long after our 500 gallon cistern is full. Here I'm demonstrating how high the moringa grow during one monsoon season. That means the roots under the surface must be that long as well.   

I pointed out a good angle to shoot our mesquite guild with the slimline rain tanks in the background. Noticing the Audubon's HABITAT AT HOME sign, Clara asked what makes it a habitat. I was happy to point out the native plants in the mesquite guild that provide food and shelter for birds, pollinators, and other desert critters.  

The mesquite tree provides shade and nitrogen to the desert hackberry and our cactus garden. It acts as a "nurse plant" to protect a young saguaro cactus from the harsh desert sun.

You might be asking, "Where is the basin?" Dan built a berm to direct roof water away from the foundation of the house and into a shallow basin. The desert plants were placed on the high end of that basin. I remember when Dan brought home his scrawny "Charlie Brown mesquite tree." Now it is thriving! 

A gravel path separates the other side of the front yard basin where we have planted a native acacia and another variety of hackberry. Birds enjoy shade from these trees as they peck for seeds from volunteer wildflowers and native grasses. A sign proudly proclaims: PLANTS FOR BIRDS. 

No tour of our yard is complete without a stop at our little garden. The garden is watered with rainwater collected in our rain tanks. Yes, I appreciate them, too. The catchment basins conserve water leaving more in the rain tanks to irrigate our garden! 

What a lovely way to spend the afternoon - discussing a shared interest with an inquisitive environmental reporter (and my son Jeremy who took the pictures of us.)  

Clara and I searching for worms in the compost pit

Wanna help promote rainwater harvesting basins?  Share a pic of your favorite basin on your social media pages. Add the hashtag #lovemyrainbasin 

 If you don't have a basin, you can still help out by "liking" or commenting on other people's posts. 

READ CLARA'S ARTICLE (in the Arizona Republic): 

It's free, it's drinkable. Why don't more Arizonans harvest rainwater during a drought?