A few innovations in the garden can save a lot of water Don and Jeanne Ross found. (Citizen file)

Capture the Rain: Don and Jeanne Ross do a lot with little space

Suburban dwellers Don and Jeanne Ross built their house on a small lot high above the Cowichan River

Cowichan’s Capture the Rain campaign: Part II

The Cowichan Watershed Board is sharing this series of profiles on landowners in our region who are doing their part to prepare for Cowichan’s changing climate by capturing rain. From small cisterns to irrigation ponds, each is collecting rainwater to supplement their garden or farm needs in the face of increasing summer droughts. More info at www.cowichanwaterchallenge.ca

Don and Jeanne Ross

Who they are: Suburban dwellers Don and Jeanne Ross built their house on a small lot high above the Cowichan River 12 years ago.

Why they collect rainwater: The house sits on rock that makes gardening a challenge with little topsoil. But as any gardener knows, where there’s a will there’s a way.

How they collect rainwater: With little room for cisterns to collect rainwater, they had to find ways to deal with the excessive drainage while reducing their water use. The Rosses tried some innovative approaches to collecting rainwater and slowing the flow of water off their land.

Ponds: Over the years they developed a number of very small ponds in the gardens around their home. The water in these ponds slowly seeps into the surrounding soil providing moisture to the roots of shrubs and perennials. The ponds also provide water as well as habitat for insects and other wildlife when things are dry in summer. Building on the pond idea, they applied the method further.

Install underground liners: In an attempt to build raised beds for vegetables, Jeanne tried lining the bottom of the garden bed with pond liner to hold the moisture in the soil near the roots – it worked and the garden beds needed less water. Next they tried growing tomatoes, which need regular water. They dug clay pots into the soil about 10 inches, leaving about three inches above the soil. Any excess water not absorbed by the soil in the pot was absorbed by the soil outside the pot, providing more moisture to the roots over the long term.

Results: These small innovations allowed them to develop water-saving gardens that were productive and beautiful. Planting native perennial species, which need less water and are drought tolerant, was also a part of their planting plan to reduce their garden’s need for water.

Words of water wisdom: Jeanne’s philosophy on their water saving innovations is simple, “…rather than pouring more water on the garden, we modified our garden to keep the water in place, and observed the results, modifying our practices as we went.”

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