Not Everyone Has This Problem
Especially people in town. But out here on ranches far from town water is a seminal issue. Having it or not having it is a matter of life or death. Wars have been fought over it. So when you don’t have enough or the right kind you have to get some. Here on our ranch we rely on wells for our house water and catch ponds and a lake for our stock. Here we have two seasons – wet and dry. This is well known to most people from California. They’ve made movies about California water. Chinatown with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway was one. I’m not going to get into the politics of Delta water or even the Owens River here. Chinatown did a great job on that. That’s a much bigger subject than this ole girl can fathom. But I can talk from personal experience about water on our ranch.
Our latest debacle has been water for our vegetable garden. We did everything right up to a point and then were caught blindsided by one major thing. First off, we can’t dig in our “soil”. It’s so hard pan I’m not even going to call it soil. It's more like pulverized rock. So we got punctured horse water tanks, put drainage rock in the bottoms and custom blend soil on top of that. We were going to run a line from a small tank on our dam that theoretically would be filled with pumped water from the lake. Then a gravity line would come from there to our garden. While this system was being worked on I optimistically went ahead and planted my garden and watered it from our house well. Things were going along pretty well at first but time passed and the plants weren’t growing vigorously. They were downright puny. I went down a check list. Good soil – check. Plenty of water – check. Good temperature past frost – check. Sun – check.
What could be wrong? By process of elimination I figured it had to be the water. But what could it be about the water? I got out my pool test strips and lo and behold I was shocked to see the alkalinity, pH and hardness were off the charts. Alkalinity was 240. pH was 8.4. Calcium hardness was 450. No wonder my poor little plants were not thriving. They were swimming in the Salton Sea!
I knew thriving plants were possible here in this – as it was turning out - inhospitable place. Every time we drove over to Orland we drove past Jackie’s garden. Every thing in her garden was a monster. One day we drove past and there was Jackie herself. I made Marty stop and back up and I jumped out of the truck, ran up the ditch and hailed her over the fence. Jackie was so nice. She explained that they had wonderful water and plenty of it. Oh, woe! What could be done for us?
I tested the pond water. Same results as the well water. Then we had something unexpected happen. It rained. It rained pretty good. Frantically, I grabbed every container I could find to position under every dripping corner of the house. Oh, did I tell you we have only two small sections of gutter and no down spouts? Well, I can tell you I made the best use of the minimal gutters we had. I was able to catch a good deal of rain in a short time. Out came the trusty test strips. Holding my breath I swirled the requisite 3 times and peered. I had Perfection! We had collected the typical slightly acidic rain that plants love and thrive on.
Next year I am not letting anyone talk me out of rain barrels under a full length of gutter with down spouts. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. We just have to pay attention, take her gifts when she offers them and work on her terms. If we do, we’ll be all right.