Rainwater Strategies Can Help Your Plants
Updated with Clarification
By Joy Diaz, KUT News
After a dry spell, rain is falling again in Central Texas. And in a time of watering restrictions, that means your plants and trees are getting a free treat. But is rainwater better than tap water for your garden?
A narrow pathway that leads to Ernest Vargas’ home entrance is the only part of his front yard that is not covered with plants. Vargas is disabled. He lives in East Austin on Heskell Street, and he swears that rainwater is the secret to his lush herbs and plants.
“I got evidence right here,” Vargas said. “You can tell. You can tell over there. Look at them.”
Vargas waters his plants with rainwater that he collects in a barrel. Each drop contains particles that were in the air and serve as nutrients.
Of course, the opposite is true, too. Rainfall collected near, say, nuclear facilities is potentially hazardous. That’s in extreme cases, such as that following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan.*
Gay Gaddis says that Central Texans who want to rely exclusively on rainwater for their plants have a problem: The rain here is unpredictable. Gaddis owns a ranch near Burnet, but she doesn’t live there; she lives in Austin and travels a lot. So her ranch garden in Burnet is her respite.
She recently decided to try to use as much rainwater as possible to grow her vegetables.
“We take water very seriously,” Gaddis said. “Our watering is in a drip system through these raised beds, so there’s no spraying of water around that wastes the water through evaporation.”
Water experts like hydrologist Stefan Schuster would like to see more people do what Gaddis does.
“In terms of rainwater, it’s the source of all of our water supply; 150 years ago if you lived in Texas, you collected your own water,” Schuster said. “Today, it is one of those alternative supply options; 150 years ago, it was a given.”
There is a rebate program through the city of Austin for people who buy rainwater storage barrels. For larger barrels, the purchase may need city preapproval. The program runs through 2013.
*This sentence was added to clarify that rainfall collected near nuclear facilities is hazardous in extreme cases, like the Fukushima disaster.