2009 - Volume #33, Issue #1, Page #17[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Rain Storage Tanks Water Commercial Gardens
McKinley and his wife, Deb, developed their farm operation, Gem Gardens, over the past 25 years. It includes a U-pick raspberry patch, two-acre tree maze, and beautiful gardens open to the public. Visitors pay by the honor system: "Pick what you want, and leave your money in the cash box in the shop."
Instead of installing a fixed irrigation system, McKinley uses portable tanks to transport water to beds that need it.
A 1,000-gal. tank on wheels can be emptied by either a gas or electric pump and has three hoses and various sprinkler head options. A 250-gal. tank on wheels is used for spot watering pots and small beds.
The garden's 1886 refurbished barn plays a key role in filling the tanks. The loft is braced with pipes to support two 1,500-gal. tanks, which are filled via pumps and hoses from tanks on the ground that have gathered rainwater from eaves troughs on various outbuildings.
"We pump the water up into the barn tanks because it's the fastest way to load for us," McKinley says. "We have two wells, but we try to minimize using them. We just feel rainwater is better."
The system also saves money and conserves energy. "Irrigation is expensive and high maintenance," McKinley notes. There is more control with the portable system. The tank can be parked next to a bed, until it receives a deep watering, then moved to the next bed or to be refilled.
"We test our soil so we are not over watering," McKinley says, noting it's better to water deeply fewer times, than to do shallow watering more often.
At the end of the season, eave troughs are blown out with a leaf blower. Tanks are emptied and cleaned with a brush-type broom. The tanks seem to hold up well, McKinley says. Two of them have been in use for eight years.
"An unexpected benefit is that we have visitors that come to the garden, and we've been able to do some education," McKinley says. "They see the watering tank and ask questions."
The beauty of Gem Gardens is a testimonial to the use of rainwater. McKinley is willing to share ideas and build portable tanks for people who are interested.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Gem Gardens, 7021 West Lowes Creek Rd., Eau Claire, Wis. 54703 (ph 715-579-9759;
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