By Jennifer Brown
While living and working all over the world, Jennifer Brown has grown gardens in both rural and urban areas. During her time spent in the beautiful and rainy Unites States Virgin Islands, she used a cistern for all of her water needs, from crop irrigation to bathing and drinking, and here she shares some tips for installing your own cistern.
Water may not grow on trees, but it certainly falls from the sky. If you’re a savvy urban farmer looking for an easy and affordable way to water your crops, installing a cistern might be right for you.
What is a Cistern?
A cistern is a tank that can hold hundreds or thousands of gallons of water that is usually collected as run off from a roof.
What are the Benefits of a Cistern?
Catching rainwater in a cistern to irrigate crops is economical and environmentally friendly. They help reduce run off that can potentially cause pollution to our streams and rivers as well as cause sewers to overflow. Cisterns are a great way to store and conserve rainwater and irrigate your urban crops while helping your local environment.
Is My Property Right for a Cistern?
In order to install a cistern on your property, you’ll first need to make sure a cistern is the right fit for your yard. You’ll need a level location outside that has a solid base such as a concrete block square or firmly packed dirt. The cistern will need to be placed near a downspout and at least 5 feet from any structure on your property that has a crawl space, attic, or slab foundation. Another 5 feet is required for a structure with a basement. And add another 2 feet for every foot the basement extends below 5 feet deep.
Shop for a Cistern
If your property meets the above requirements, it’s time to start shopping for your cistern tank. To save money, opt for an above ground tank rather than a below ground tank. The best place to buy a cistern would be an agricultural supply shop. You’ll want a dark color that helps prohibit algae growth. While you’re there, think about a purchasing a fence or trellis to hide your cistern from the neighbor’s view.
Installing the Cistern
Once you’ve decided on a location (a shady area is best) and picked out the tank, it’s time to install it. If you’re handy with tools and general plumbing, you can do this yourself. Otherwise, you may want to call in a professional.
Step 1: Once the ground is level, place the tank on the foundation.
Step 2: Place an aluminum window screen over the top to keep bugs – particularly mosquitoes – and debris out of the tank.
Step 3: This is where it can get tricky. Your cistern will come with directions on how to make the gutter connections and how to install your overflow pipe. Make sure, however, that your overflow is let out in a safe area on your property and not into the street or a neighbor’s yard.
Step 4: To use your cistern as an irrigation system, install a drain valve and connect a regular garden hose. This will act as another overflow pipe, allowing the water to soak into your soil.
Installing a cistern on your property can be simple and cost-effective. Be sure to follow the supplier’s directions when installing your cistern and keep up on regular maintenance and yearly cleaning of your tank as well.