Gardening - Don't Let Rainwater Go Down the Drain. Using a rain gauge, like this homemade one, can help you use water more efficiently in the garden
DIY Rain Gauge

Conservation and recycling are on everyone's minds these days.

Many of us use energy sparingly and sort our household waste in blue bins. But few of us outside the sun-drenched Southwest think about conserving and recycling our most precious resource, water.

One of the best ways to conserve water is to capture rainfall from the roofs of buildings.

Large amounts of water can be collected this way. For every 1,000 square feet of roof, 1 inch of rain will yield 600 gallons of water. In more arid areas, this water is stored in underground cisterns. For the savvy homeowner, collecting rainwater for garden use is as simple as connecting a downspout to a rain barrel with a spigot.

Another helpful tool in water conservation is a simple water gauge.

Knowing exactly how much rain has fallen in your area can help you decide how much and how often to irrigate your garden or landscape. Many homes with automatic irrigation systems operate even when adequate rainfall occurs, which ends up wasting large amounts of water.

An easy-to-make rain gauge can help determine when rainfall needs to be supplemented with watering.

It can also measure water from overhead sprinklers to help make sure you've watered your garden sufficiently. Checking my rain gauge has become routine after each rain; it's a helpful tool in managing my garden.

To make your own gauge the simple steps listed below.

An accurate rain gauge requires a cylindrical "collector" with at least a 3-inch wide opening -- cylindrical floral vases work perfectly for this. For this project, four dowels set into the top end of an upright post hold the collecting jar in place and allow it to be easily removed and emptied. A stainless steel ruler simply glued to the cylinder's side makes measurements easy to read.

Siting the gauge properly is essential for accuracy. The collection jar must be at least 1 foot off the ground to ensure that no water splashes into the gauge, yet it also must be low enough to minimize the effects of wind on measurements. In addition, it should be set level with a level to be perfectly calibrated and located away from structures or trees.

For materials you will need one 4-by-4-inch cedar post, 3 feet long; four 3/8-inch hardwood dowels, cut to a length of 9 1/2 inches; exterior wood glue; a glass jar, 9 inches tall and 3 inches in diameter; a 6-inch stainless steel ruler; 5-minute outdoor epoxy; and steel wool or coarse sandpaper.

Tools for the job include a miter saw with finish blade, a drill with a 3/8-inch brad point bit, a tape measure, a level and a pencil.

First, cut cedar post to length. Mark positions for dowels by centering jar on the top cut end of the post; place a dowel perpendicularly against edge of jar at a corner of the post end, and trace dowel with pencil. Mark all four dowel locations in this way. These dowels will hold cylinder in place and allow it to be removed for emptying.

Next, using 3/8-inch brad point bit, drill out holes for all four dowels, each about 2 inches deep and perpendicular to top of post. Clean out sawdust from holes, put in several drops of wood glue, and insert a 9 1/2-inch length of dowel into each hole. Ensure the dowels are perpendicular before the glue dries.

Thoroughly clean the glass jar. Roughen back surface of stainless steel ruler with steel wool or sandpaper, to increase adhesion of the epoxy. Mix the epoxy following manufacturer's directions and apply to back side of ruler. Affix ruler to wall of cylinder so that zero point is lined up with bottom of cylinder and ruler runs straight up side of cylinder, perpendicular to cylinder's base.

After the glue holding the dowels has dried, select an appropriate site per instructions above, dig a hole, and set the post into ground. After epoxy dries, place jar on top of post between the dowels. Wait for rain.


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