rain water harvesting and clay soil

ae2ga(7)November 17, 2010

Hi - this is my first of what is sure to be many messages as I prepare to find a job, purchase a house, and move to Decatur. I've only been able to have a small garden that I stuff with roses, perennials, and bulbs, so I'm very much looking forward to a large yard for gardening.

I've been reading the past threads about gardening, and there two issues about which I have questions:

1. I've read here and online about the red clay soil. When you deal with this, do you just amend like crazy until you can plant, or do you more often have raised and container gardens? In raised beds do you install french drains or another method of ensuring you keep soil instead of making soup?

2. There are numerous posts about the heat and drought. I'm looking at the cost feasibility of installing a rain water harvesting system for the garden and maybe parts of the house. Have any of you installed one or looked into it? Is belowground cost prohibitive? Where do you put your tanks for an above ground installation?

I know I'm going to have a learning curve when I move from zone 10 to zone 7b, but I'm very much looking forward to it.

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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

Welcome to Atlanta! You'll be living very close to me, and you will have a wonderful resource near by to help you with your gardening (well two, actually). Dekalb Master Gardeners are quite active, and are very helpful (two live in my neighborhood) and also Oakhurst Gardens is in Decatur and can help you with all sorts of things (and they have classes).
You can a) ammend like crazy, and get your soil going, make raised beds and work above the clay line (works fast for veggies and annuals), and if need be, you can install French Drains but only if you've got the lake or puddles that just won't drain.
There are several places that can help you install rain water irrigation systems underground. I am in the process of finishing our underground system but I also use rain barrels. Cisterns are expensive to install. No doubt about it. Each of my cisterns is $1500 gallons and costs $600 each. There's a store here that sells everything you need for them. Then you'd include an irrigation system if you'd like, and you'd need to hop on an extra filtration system (between $300-$600). I have no idea what sprinkler type systems cost (to install or to run). However all your water will be free. Inground tanks can be installed where there are few trees - if you are treed you can get an above ground tank installed and still outfitted to water automatically. You can even have this powered by solar if you choose! Another option is the Rain Water Pillow which was invented by someone in Georgia. It's a giant space age pillow that sits in your crawl space and fills from your gutters and is attached to your watering system. My neighbor has one. It's wonderful. I've also had some clients have them installed. There is a rain barrel company here that will customize your barrels and make stands or whatever you need (one of my clients has a tower of them!) and paints them to match your home, and comes to install them. These can be made to work with soaker hoses if installed very carefully (which is where the towers come in) and are very reasonably priced.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 10:43PM
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Thanks. I'm so glad you included approximate costs as I was thinking a rain harvesting system would be significantly more expensive. The the information about the master gardeners is exciting. When I first made this decision, I thought I'll be sad to leave So Cal, but the gardening and house buying prospects just make it better and better. Well, maybe I should say house buying and gardening...;)

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 3:42AM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

I did not include labor. That is, of course very expensive in many cases.

There is a man in Decatur very close to Oakhurst Gardens who has several rain catchment and automated watering systems in his garden. He also hires someone to clean his tanks annually. Here's a company (I am not saying I recommend them, I don't know this company nor this person) that does this locally http://www.raincatchers.net/

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 7:31PM
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Thanks so much for the information - I really want to create the most energy efficient house I can and have a plan for that, and, because I plan to garden in a big way, water has to be a primary consideration. I was worried such a system would be cost prohibitive, but you've reassured me that some extra savings now will allow me to install a water harvesting system.

I read the website you listed and also www.ecovieenvironment.com - of course more research too.

Now I just have to hope for hiring instead of laying off teachers in the area.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 12:37PM
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Welcome to Decatur from another originally West Coaster, I moved into the city of Decatur last year and I have a tiny lot so I haven't done much more than build a single raised bed for veggies in the only sunny spot of my very shady yard and transplant some hostas from my mom's garden in Seattle. Funny enough, except for the very hot summers here the plant zones and winter weather are very similar here to the Pacific Northwest. From the reading I've done the best method to deal with the clay soil (from a long term perspective) is to just keep mulching. If you get enough organic material on top of the soil the worms come and help aerate for you. So far this is working okay in the beds but my grass is still struggling. I hope by aerating and reseeding in the spring I can actually have some grass and not bare clay in my front yard.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 10:06AM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

caeebe, you need to get the BEST grass for your exposure. There are many great new grasses available now for the Southeast. There are separate types for sun and shade and part shade and there are some which are simply better by planting plugs or laying sod.
I like SmartSeed
I think you are wise to take it slowly and get a handle on your new yard and the lay of the land. I moved here from Canada and it took me a year or two of experimenting to see what this property needed and what I had to learn (A whole Lot!!!).
Winters are somewhat similar to the NW but we definately get less rain - our rain patterns are different too. You'll begin to notice that we get rain all at once. Like a giant bucket just dumping rain most of the time and not as many "rainy days" like they get in the NW and even in Toronto where I am from. Then of course we go through the DRY hot periods which are so unlike the PNW.. :) Spring and Fall can be very similar though, especially in a good, long spring year!

I wish you gardening success!


    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 5:17PM
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