Cattle, Chicks, Garden

Rainwater Collection Series 4: Flow Chart of Flowing Water

To recap the journey water makes on my farm:

Solar distilled water in the atmosphere

Falls as precipitation

Barn roof


Collection Barrels

Pumped up to elevated tank (Via this DC or solar powered pump)

Gravity fed to irrigate plants OR Gravity fed to water animal/fill mobile tanks OR Gravity fed through filters into potable water tank

Cattle, Garden, Side Projects

Rainwater Collection Series 3: Purifying Rain Water for Human Use

The last main hurdle of settling on the property is purifying the rain water that has run off the metal barn roof that has been treated with who-knows-what then stored in petroleum based tanks that my leach additional undesirables. Here is the catch, I don’t want to have to use power whatsoever to purify the water (excepting my DC solar pump).

First of all, I plan to purify water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, cooking and any other miscellaneous needs. Between all of those uses I will conservatively require about 10 gallons a day of purified water. How can I do this without additional energy use?

The first step is a basic filter to remove debris and extend the life of later components. A simple layer of gravel then sand should do the trick.

Here is the gem: Ceramic. During manufacturing, sawdust and silver is mixed into the ceramic clay. When fired in the kiln, the sawdust combusts leaving behind microscopic channels that allows water to travel through the ceramic while bacteria are too large to fit. Silver impregnation provides a hostile surface for microbial activity. A simple scrub with an abrasive sponge removes the top layer of ceramic and refreshes the filter. I haven’t decided on a specific filter yet, but this one is along the lines of what I am considering.

Lastly, a replaceable and homemade activated charcoal filter will remove any chemicals that have leeched into the water on its journey to my farm. With the filter medium available in various quantities, it will be simple to incorporate the homemade and changeable filter into my design.

The last piece of the puzzle is a storage tank. I would prefer a non-petroleum based tank to store the fresh water. Preferable stainless steel and something that could tolerate a bit of pressure when pumping the water out. Does this ring any bells with anyone? If I can legally find a 15.5 gallon half barrel beer keg to use, I will remove the spear and add my own fittings. FYI, most beer kegs including the ones for sale on craigslist are property of the beer distributor who issued the keg when it was full of beer. Any you come across second-hand are technically stolen unless the seller can prove otherwise. Even though I personally view the legal requirement to use a distributor is right up there with cartels and acts a barrier to entry for smaller guys, I’ll still find a keg through legal avenues. Do whatever aligns with your ethics!

Regular water testing will ensure my system is safe and continues to be s0 as it ages.

Cattle, Garden

Rainwater Collection Series 2: Rain Water Collection Barrels

With the exhaustive calculations for gutter and downspout planning complete, the next hurdle is for containers to collect rainwater. Craigslist to the rescue!

While I could pick up the typical blue 55 gallon plastic drums for around $40 each, I could spend double that for the roughly-cubic 300 gallon containers in the metal mesh. I plan to order at least 5: 1 for each of the 4 barn downspouts and one for the hayloft of the barn. Since the time of writing the draft initially, I have purchased 4 300 gallon tanks which you can read about here.

Why one in the hayloft? I plan to utilize a DC solar powered pump to push the water from the rain collection tanks up into the hayloft in order to gravity feed most paddocks as well as the fruit and vegetable garden. Ideally I would put a tank in the top of the unused silo to gravity feed the entire property, but that my be an engineering feat beyond my ability.

I also want a sixth barrel of equal or lesser size to mount on a trailer in order to more-easily water the furthest paddocks when animals are present.

Cattle, Garden

Rainwater Collection Series 1: Gutters for Barn

WARNING: This post gets dense!

Rainwater collection is another vital aspect of my farm operation. While a well is drilled, pumped and plumbed, I would prefer to save its operation for emergencies. I will be designing a system that uses as little energy as possible.

An aspect of large initial investment will be to instal gutters on the barn. Its 60 foot by 80 foot pitched roof serves as a perfect mechanism to harvest solar distilled water, aka precipitation. I want to do my own legwork in designing a system before I contact installers for quotes. has available a resource in this PDF Proper Gutter and Downspout Sizing.

An important piece of data to acquire is the rainfall intensity over a 5 minute period for 10 year and 100 year rainfall events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a tool that allows you to retrieve data for a specific location either visually by panning and zooming in a map or by inputting coordinates.

Following the sample calculations found on page 6 of the Gutter Supply publication using my barn and location, the process is as follows:

Total roof area in two dimensions is 80 ft *60 ft = 4800 square feet

Roof pitch is vertical rise/horizontal distance from start to end of rise is 15 feet vertical over 30 ft horizontal * 12 inches/foot = 6 inches per foot (on my barn)

According to Table 1-1 in the Gutter Supply publication, the constant for my roof pitch adjustment = 1.10

Therefore roof area adjusted for pitch is 4800 square foot * 1.1 = 5280 square feet

Number of downspouts desired = 4 (my preference)

Roof Area covered by each downspout is 5280 square feet / 4 downspouts = 1320 square feet per downspout

Because of the poor amount of cities represented in the PDF, I compared my rainfall to a few cities using the NOAA tool. Knoxville had a 5 min rainfall total of .440 inches while my location has .437. Close enough.

Per the terribly formatted Table 1-2 in the PDF, 1 sq inch of gutter can drain 180 square feet of roof area. So 1320 square feet / 180 = 7.333 square inches as a minimum per downspout.

Finally, comparing the figure of 7.33 square inches to the Table 1-3 in the PDF shows that 4 inches of any shape gutters would perform adequately in a 10 year rain event.

Following the final 3 steps shows that I would need a minimum downspout size of 10.15 square inches in a 100 year event at .690 rainfall intensity. 4″ gutters would still serve in every shape except rectangular corrugated.


Wow Bravo if you stuck through that. None of the other posts in this series will be this technical!


Cattle, Side Projects

Brassica Cover Cropping as Biological Soil Tiler

The sustainable farming and land management industries are constantly coming up with innovations to find biological solutions to problems that have been solved through petroleum use since the 1940s. Brassica cover cropping is one example of this.

Brassicas typically have a large taproot and for ease of visualization, the most promising plant in this system seems to be the Radish. Sown in the late summer, the radishes drive their taproot into the soil as they take up nutrients. They are not harvested but left to last through a few freezes resulting in their death. As they decay, the nutrients are released back into soil and the taproot leaves a cavity in the previously compacted shallow layers of topsoil. Hence the tiling effect without mechanical soil turning that disrupts microbial activity and over-oxygenates the soil.

Erosion resistance and water absorption are boosted so well by this process that many riparian managers are studying the effect of planting them in drainage areas. Urban sprawl of impervious surfaces change the hydrology of the area by providing a flush of water during precipitation rather than an sponge-like absorption by local soils that gradually releases stored water into waterways. By aerating the remaining available soils with brassica cropping, that rush of creekbank-eroding rainwater can be somewhat alleviated.

I haven’t found much scientific data (at least not behind a paywall that double dips into taxpayers’ pockets). However there is a bit of literature from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (government source and PDF warning!) that makes me think this is an interesting development to follow!

I was introduced to this concept by my friend who is the farm manager at Frying Pan Farm Park in the bustling DC metro area. Being the last working farm in the county, they strive to strike a balance between typical farm operations and acting as a working farm museum for public education and enjoyment. Its great to see a farm with such a strong public presence exploring concepts of sustainable farming!

Cattle, Chicks, Garden

Purchased Tanks for Water Collection: Warnings and Advice

I have been browsing craigslist regularly for anything from animals to equipment to discarded plastic drums for water tanks. After doing some extensive math that will be included in a future series of posts, I quickly realized that the rainwater collection system would be best served with a higher capacity than 55 gallon drums could accommodate reasonably.

Off to Craigslist in search of some of the 250+ gallon tanks that come in metal cages, pictured below.

Water Tank

First for the warning: Like 55 gallon plastic drums, be VERY particular to source a tank that stored food materials or safe chemicals. Watering animals, plants or yourself with water tainted by industrial-grade acid, chemicals, etc would be tragic and entirely avoidable.

Advice: Don’t write off tanks with chemical stickers like I almost did. Luckily the craigslist ad for 300 gallon tanks had a price that made me inquire despite almost dismissing the option due to visible chemical stickers on the tanks. Here is a picture from the ad:


Turned out the tanks contained medical grade Hydrogen Peroxide. The seller of the tanks explained that he does not clean them out as the solution keeps the inside of the tanks sterile. All that is needed to make them food-safe is to add 10 gallons of water, slosh it around and dump it out as the trace amounts of it have been diluted to ~1% and will break down into water + oxygen gas once exposed to light.

Self-sanitizing 300 gallon tanks at twice the local going rate for 55 gallon drums? I took as many as I could safely haul at once and may go back for more. They would make the perfect mobile watering tank for cattle, rain barrels or even a tank to combine smaller rain water containers together! Also I am sure they could be used to barter with other farmers/gardeners if I find myself with too many in the end.

To recap, when sourcing potential water tanks, be very careful to determine exactly what they held previously. If they were used for non-food uses, see if there is a way to make them food safe before writing them off. After all I much prefer my Hydrogen Peroxide container to the cleaning I’ve done in the past to an agave or honey container!


Cattle, Forestry

Carbon Medium for Nutrient Absorbtion in Compost while Wintering Animals

Follow up to Wintering Animals = Backbone of Soil Building

Capturing all of the nutrient rich excrement from the wintering of animals is going to require a huge amount of carbon. Skills I have gained while studying forestry and the associated graduate projects I assisted will be called upon in order to accumulate the carbon biomass I will require. I’ll write a well-cited post on my sustainable forest management plans once I have finished collecting and amassing my research. The gists of my strategy will be to provide the canopy disturbance necessary to have a healthy, sustainable forest.

Good points were made in Joel Salatin’s book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal. Starting around page 182, Salatin asserts that soil is built and carbon sequestered more efficiently via grasslands opposed to forests. Trees grow very slowly, then die. As they decompose, much of that sequestered carbon is released right back to the atmosphere. Grasslands grow, die and decompose every year; multiple times a year if serviced by grazers and herbivores. However the sequestered carbon in the grasslands us more fully absorbed by the soil and stored in the animal tissue of grazers. Salatin’s assertions seem to be backed up by this study I found.

To minimize the negative impact of forest land on the atmosphere, I plan to eventually harvest the dead, diseased, crooked or otherwise undesirable trees from the forest to make room for subsequent generations of oak and hopefully someday soon, American Chestnut. Despite my minor in forestry, I have a lot more to learn about sustainable harvesting. Fortunately, there are many pioneer trees in the pasture that need removed, and the unmaintained forest has many dead trees that should sustain me for at least a year while I broaden my forestry knowledge.

I will likely invest in a wood chipper to process the farms own biomass to provide the winter bedding. I may also seek out locally discarded christmas trees, shredded paper/cardboard, peanut hulls (suggested by Mr. Salatin in our correspondence) or any other source of easily attainable carbon material.

Note: If you plan to store wood chips on your farm, please be sure to do so in a manner that accounts for the heat generated as they naturally decompose. Limit the height of piles to prevent a fire hazard in your structures and to ensure that the chips dry fully.