Category Archives: Rainwater Catchment

Growing the Color Blue

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This is my second year growing Japanese Indigo from seed originally purchased from FIBERSHED Marketplace.  It is easy to grow from seed and seems to love my garden.  You can save your own seed from year to year.  Start it in the Spring and harvest it in the Summer.  When I went out to harvest it yesterday I noticed that the honeybees were loving the beautiful pink Indigo flowers.  I try planting for the bees and birds and us so this made me quite happy.

IMG_0396Yesterday, Lily and I used the “one-day” recipe out of Rebecca Burgess’ wonderful book HARVESTING COLOR.  We harvested the Indigo and removed the leaves from the stalks.  We put 3/4 pound of leaves in a 2 1/2 quart jar of warm rainwater.  I use rainwater because we catch it here but you could use filtered water.  You just don’t want the chlorine in city water going in your dye bath.

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The jar was placed in a big pot of water we heated to 170 degrees.  We used a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.  The water immediately turned blue!  The leaves heated in that jar for three hours.  We have an outdoor stove so we didn’t have to heat up the house in the process.  After the three hours of heating I put a colander over a stainless steel pot and strained the solution.  The leaves were then squeezed over the pot to get the rest of the liquid out.  They were then thrown into the compost and the work began!

A tablespoon of baking soda was then added and for the next 10 minutes Lily and I poured the solution from one pot to another to oxygenate it.  It changed color before our eyes (which this dye bath did many times throughout the day!).  As it was poured back and forth it got darker and darker and turned a very dark bluish green color.  At that point we added a tablespoon of Spectralite I got from Dharma Trading Company (thank you Julie!).  Lily very gently stirred this into the dye bath trying her best not to make any bubbles.  The Spectralite removes oxygen from the dye bath.  We kept the liquid at 100 degrees by putting the dye pot on top of the pot we heated the jars in since the water was already hot.  After 8 to 10 minutes it was supposed to turn yellow.  Our dye bath stayed blue-green so we were worried that it wasn’t going to work.

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We forged ahead anyway by putting in Lily’s pre-wetted wool yarn and my silk scarf.  They had been soaking in the warm water pot.  We put them in the dye bath gently so we would not make any bubble and add oxygen.  The yarn was immediately blue so we were still concerned since they were supposed to come out yellowish and turn blue when they hit the air.  We left it all in the pot for 10 minutes or so and when we pulled it out it was a yellowish light blue.  Like a magic trick it turned a gorgeous deep blue right in front of our eyes!  The neighbors probably thought we had lost our minds were so excited!

IMG_0427Last Summer the kids and I used the Indigo leaves fresh by putting them in a blender with rainwater and making a raw liquid dye.  We used some raw silk shirt scraps from a thrift shop purchase and they made little bags.  They made their own cordage handles with Japanese Iris leaves from the backyard and were quite happy with themselves!

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Why use natural dyes?  As Rebecca Burgess point out on her website, “The textile industry is the number one polluter of fresh water resources on the planet, as well as having an immense carbon footprint.  The average CO2 emitted for the production of one t-shirt is up to 40 times the weight of that shirt.”

We can use locally grown fibers for clothes and locally grown plants for dyes.  Since I am not a knitter (yet) but I am a thrift shopper I buy used clothes and dye them with plants grown in my yard or gathered in my neighborhood.  Just about every color is available from plants.  Now, I’ve got blue!

Backyard Permaculture!

Digging the first swale in 2006.

2007.  First year’s garden after our Permaculture design implementation began.

The garden in August of 2013.

It now includes ducks, chickens, honeybee hives, annual and perennial food crops, 20 fruit trees, berries, grapes, fruit-bearing shrubs, medicinal herbs, dye and cordage plants, 3000 gallons of rainwater catchment, a rainwater-fed pond-to-garden system, a greywater-fed garden (left of the pathway), prolific backyard composting operation and an operating greenhouse built with 95% recycled materials.  All on a 6000 square foot lot with a 1200 square foot house and a five minute walk to downtown.   Urban Permaculture! 

Rain! It’s about time.

We’ve just weathered the FIRST storm of the season and it’s January 26th. Our area got up to 4 inches of rain in just a few days. Luckily, our rainwater catchment tanks were down to 700 gallons. That amount came from the only other bit of rain we’ve had this Winter which was months ago. We let the first day if this storm’s rain rinse off the roof then turned the valve and sent all that glorious water to our tanks.


We’ve got two 1350 gallon water tanks and a 150 gallon stock tank (duck pond). The first night of the storm brought us the remaining 2000 gallons we needed and the rest came out of the overflow pipe to flush the duck pond. It rained for two or three more days and we now have a VERY clean pond! The fish are happy, the ducks are happy, we’re happy. You get the picture.


We need more tanks!

Our tanks come from Tank Depot. We order online and have them delivered to our driveway. They are lightweight and if you have the clearance you can just roll them into place. We have them on base rock platforms framed with rot-resistant wood.

The duck pond stock tank was purchased on Craigslist. It’s the Rubbermaid brand. Whenever possible we buy things used but you can find these tanks at any good feed store.

Remember- The problem is the solution. We used to have big issues with water around our house foundation. Now, we don’t and we also save money on water for our livestock and gardens.

Rainwater is precious. It does not belong in a storm drain. Catch it, slow it, sink it.

The Case of the Sneaky Chicken


Well… it has certainly been a while!

We’ve added a second 1350 gallon rainwater tank and a 150 gallon duck pond. The rainwater tanks and the pond are full and the rain is still coming down!
We collect our rainwater off of our asphalt shingle roof so we had some concerns about asphalt residue, fungicides, etc. ending up in the rainwater we collected. Brad Landcaster mentions in his rainwater harvesting book the idea that asphalt roofs might leach only when it’s hot out and not when it’s raining in the winter. We were still unsure. So, we filled the new duck pond and put a dozen goldfish in to see if they would live or die. Not a single fish died! The ducks love bathing and swimming in their new pond (really just a 150 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank). They poop while they frolic and the fish eat the poop. It’s an idea we read about in Bill Mollison’s big permaculture manual.
The pond does not have a pump or filter. The rainwater tanks gravity feed water to the pond through a hose. The pond has it’s own hose out a spigot at the bottom which we use to water the garden (also gravity fed). The pond water contains nutrients from both the duck and the fish poop. Everyone and everything benefits. The rainwater tank overflow fills the swales in the garden and sinks the water on site for future use. As we drain the pond to the garden we refill it with the fresh rainwater. The system actually works. Amazing.
So, back to the case of the “sneaky chicken”….
The ducks got a new duck house to go with their pond and I guess the chickens got envious. One morning not long after the new duck house was set up I did my usual morning rounds. I opened the duck house door and the they all came piling out. A few seconds later out came a chicken! I could not figure out why one duck would not go in the night before. Well, there are four ducks and four nest boxes. I guess she had gone in there and found her nest box occupied and came back out refusing to share with the likes of a chicken. I kind of felt bad since I had physically picked her up and shoved her in there not knowing the whole story. So, out came the chicken who immediately ran over to the chicken coop and begged to be let back in. She has not flown the coop since.

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It’s been raining for days now. We’ve been working on ways to keep all of this precious water on site. As long as this house has been here (100 years now) the water has flowed off our roof and through the yard straight back to our neighbor’s basement. When they recently dug out yards and yards of dirt to put in a foundation I teased them that it was “all our topsoil”. Since we’re growing food in the garden now we need to keep that topsoil and that water here. We can’t afford to just let it run off to the city storm drain or our neighbor’s basement.

In the garden we slow it and sink it using swales to direct the water flow. From the the roof we collect it for use in the garden during the growing season. Our 1350 gallon rainwater catchment tank has been overflowing all Winter. It has been full since the first storm of the season. We need another tank. More on our rainwater catchment system soon. I’ve got to get the ‘engineer’ to do that blog entry.

Enjoy the rain while it lasts. As you can see our ducks certainly do!