Saturday, April 29, 2017

Getting ready for the annual rain dance

Non-San Miguelites, particularly those hapless folks recovering from yet another winter in places like Chicago or Montreal, may view our climate enviously: Current forecasts call for overnight temperatures in the mid-fifties, noontime highs in the mid-eighties, and brilliant sunny skies as far as anyone can predict.

Indeed we haven't had any measurable rain in months. 

Great, huh? Not quite. After so many sere weeks, San Miguel natives—human, animal and vegetable—wake up with a pleading eye toward the sky, looking for any sign of rain or at least dark clouds.

Our three Michoacán pines are the most beautiful trees in our ranch
but they take a lot of precious water. 
Today our humidity index is eleven percent. Some might argue that's preferable to summers in Houston or Miami, when transiting from an air-conditioned space to the soggy outdoors feels like getting hit in the face with a banana cream pie, but that's only a matter of preference.

This is the season when potted plants agitate for water twice a week, and your skin and lips feel taut and dry, as after a cheap face lift, not that I've ever had one, or expensive one either. I'm just imagining.

On an annual basis we receive somewhere between twenty and twenty-five inches of rain, which is not too bad. Phoenix gets only eight inches a year, and San Diego about eleven.

Our problem is one of distribution. For four months, usually June through September, we get soaked, even swamped, but the rest of the year there's barely a drop of precipitation.

During the first four months of the dry season we don't miss the rain so much, and may even gloat about the strange blessing of a sunny and warm Christmas season.

Then the sunflowers and cosmos that cover the fields get wiped out by the wind and everything turns brown except for desert-hardy denizens like cacti, mezquites and huizaches. Brush fires are common, the carbonized fields they leave behind adding to the bleakness of the landscape. Winds and dust pick up.

Cacti survive the dry season handily, but the rest of the plants
dry right down to the ground 
Sometime in March, when the temperatures rise slightly and the days grow longer, we get a teaser fake spring. Some cacti and succulents set flowers and we sigh with relief, but in vain, that rain and greener days are at hand, when in fact we have a month or two of dry weather left.

So at the moment we typically grow a bit nervous about our water supply We rely on a swimming pool-size underground cistern, about thirty-five thousand gallons, that's fed by rainfall and fills surprisingly rapidly. A couple of good rains it's all it takes.

We also get water from a distant community well once a week for a few hours, but that's more like a squirt than a reliable source.

All the water we use goes through a series of filters to screen out dirt as well as bacteria.

Our new irrigation system is a jungle of
connectors, filters and timers. 
Right  about now we wonder if this will be the year when we have to summon a water truck to give the cistern a quick shot. We installed a connection in front of the garage when we built the house, just in case, but in seven years we haven't had to use it.

This year we also extended our drip irrigation system to supply the trees in half the yard, with a thousand feet of irrigation hose we dragged down from San Antonio.

We tested it on Friday and the system—installed by Felix, who's added the installation of drip irrigation systems to his palette of talents—seems to work perfectly, each emitter dribbling exactly two gallons of water per tree per hour.  We figure two hours a week per tree should be enough. The foliage will let us know if we're right.

Meanwhile, Stew will keep an eye on both the sky and the water level of our cistern. If recent history is a reliable indicator, rains will begin in about a month to six weeks, proving our seasonal water worries were, once again, all for naught.

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1 comment:

  1. Those of us who live in the tropical weather part of the Tropics have a similar rain-drought season. But we are fortunate enough to have rivers (or creeks, in the dry season) that seem to spring from magic aquifers.

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