Parts 1 and 2 of this title were written in January, when El Niño was filling and re-filling our rain barrels regularly. Now, ending a week that brought record high temperatures to the L.A. area, we seem to be starting a dry and dusty La Niña season. Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog, which may tell you more than you want to know about such things, states that "historically, about 35 - 40% of El Niño events are followed by a La Niña within the same year."
I loved El Niño and so am hoping 2010 is one of the 60 - 65% of years when La Niña does NOT follow in her brother's footsteps. Even a year of NORMAL rainfall would be welcome.
Our five rain barrels have been empty for months (the last measurable rain having fallen in March), but within the last couple of weeks I've found a new source of water to 'harvest' -- the washing machine! Having switched from detergent to a magic green plastic laundry ball filled with ceramic beads, I have a dependable source of chemical-free water, laced with very dilute solutions of dirt, food, and human effluvia -- nothing a plant wouldn't love.
Harvesting wash water is more labor intensive than harvesting rain water, but I'm getting it down to a fairly simple routine -- learned the HARD WAY, of course, with much spillage.
First, siphoning into the nearest rain barrel with a regular garden hose was impractical. Starting and stopping the siphon were tricky operations, to say the least, and a large load of laundry produced more than the barrel's 50 gallon capacity. Running the hose out the back door brought in insects and heat, and would not be practical year-round.
A siphon pump improved the process greatly, but its tubing slipped out easily and the end in the washing machine got blocked by clothes. Steve perforated a small plastic hand-sanitizer bottle and attached it to the sucking end, but all the parts slipped apart too easily so he secured them with Gorilla Glue. Unfortunately the Gorilla Glue rendered the pump totally inoperable. Evidently it expanded to block all the joints where it had been applied.
Steve bought another siphon pump and perforated another hand-sanitizer bottle, and we were in business at last! I started siphoning water into various vessels including our old galvanized watering can (Haws' "Peter Rabbit" model, no longer available in the one-gallon size, but priced at $129.95 for the two-gallon size). Steve bought ours for $1.00 at the Salvation Army Thrift Store years ago, and I suppose we need to treat is as an heirloom.
I started feeling like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, running back and forth between washing machine and garden with a motley assortment of containers. Fun, in a way, but frustrating to come back from emptying two half-gallon containers to find that the one-gallon watering can is overflowing. A pair of two-gallon plastic watering cans from Home Depot seemed to solve the problem, but they're pretty heavy when full.
Emptying the two-gallon watering cans into a rain barrel permits some relief, but I still need to take the water out of the rain barrel and USE it before the washing machine has to be emptied again.
It is shocking to realize that I regularly use A LOT MORE water to do laundry than I use to water the garden. See drops in the bucket, part 4, (assuming that I ever have time to write it!) for more on this issue.