Sunday March 29, 2009 Puttering in Helen’s Haven

More rain.  I wish I could box it up to use in August when I know I’ll really need it.  Oh, that’s right, I am!  My rain harvesters are full.  As of right now, I have 680 gallons stored for a time when rain will not be so plentiful.  You may be wondering if 680 is a lot or a little, especially since many of you have a 60ish gallon rain barrel and I have an order of magnitude more.  Let’s just say, this is all I plan to have.  My gardens have been re-designed so that, in the absence of rain, I can use only this water.  In an extreme drought, I will be suffering like everyone else.

Aster next to the 250-gallon rain harvester

Aster next to the 250-gallon rain harvester

In the next week or two, I plan to write an in-depth analysis of how much water Helen’s Haven needs.  These needs were based on a dry summer – not an extreme drought, which, by the way, precipitated the whole rain harvesting notion in the first place.  I started harvesting rain in December 2007.   As it happens, this was when the rains return to Raleigh.  I didn’t know that at the time.

I evaluated 100 years of data and clearly understood that statistically, we could and probably would have a year of plenty following the drought.  And we did.  But I also realized we could just have easily had an average rainfall.  In fact, we were more likely to have rain followed by a drought than a drought two years in a row.  I still proceeded.  Because of the variable whicky-whacky-ness of our rain fall from year to year, if I was planning to do something, I realized I needed to plan for some extremes.   Storing the water was not a problem for me.  Not having water to water my ornamentals and veggies, was.  Designing my gardens to be more water efficient was the first place I started…but I digress.  I will be specific about the details in a later post. Back on the subject for today; today I have little need for this water; it has rained a month of Sundays, plus more.

This past Monday I had the good fortune to spend time with Brian Shrader, Anchor with WRAL news and camera man Robert.  WRAL was preparing a segment on organic gardening and Helen’s Haven was the example garden used in the segment.  Tomorrow morning during the morining news and again at noon, Helen’s Haven will get her 20 SECONDS of fame.  Brian thought I would be able to load it up on my blog.  I’ll see tomorrow if I’m able to do this.

Left to right - Brian Shrader, Anchor WRAL News, Helen Yoest, and Robert the camera man

Left to right - Brian Shrader, Anchor WRAL News, Helen Yoest, and Robert the camera man

Because of all the rain this week, I got behind, so little time could be spent in Helen’s Haven.  I did manage to get some fun stuff done.

  • Mowed the lawn.
  • Made sure the purple smoke bush as OK.  I transplanted it last fall from the Secret Garden to the Mixed Border.  Finally saw signs of life.
  • Planted a hardy orchid.  I bought some in Charleston, SC last spring, but they didn’t return.  We had a severe winter.  There I go again.  If I stuck to only buying plants with a zone wrapped around it, I would not be at risk of loosing it.  So what do I do, I bought another one…this time only one.  Last year I bought AND lost 3.
  • I mulched a path from the front garden to the back.  By mulched, I 250-gallon-water-harvester-001mean I used mini bark as a path to delineate an area where there was only composted leaf mulch.  Not sure what I want to put there, if anything.  The different mulch material made a nice temporary choice.
  • Eyed the lavender and counted how many would need replacing this year.  Cold, wet, and old they are.  I might get one more year (this one) out of them.  When in bloom, their rattiness will be less noticeable.
  • Spent the weekend mornings with coffee watching the birds at the feeder.  Saw the first yellow finch, Thrashers, Robins, Cardinals, woodpeckers, jays, and Carolina finches.
  • Saw a bunny at least 3 feet tall.  Really!  OK, maybe only 18 inches, but it was big.  Aster says a bunny that big is called a rabbit.  David say an even bigger rabbit is called sir.
  • Again, contemplated adding pea gravel to the herb garden as a mulch.  I like the look of it.  Kk tells me it wont help with weed suppression, but I don’t really have a weed problem there.  I also don’t have a drainage problem, so the herbs are not sitting wet stuff.  I just like the look of it, especially in an herb garden.  I really want crushed oyster shells.  When in South Carolina last spring, the gardens there have what was referred to as a #3 crushed oyster shell. It was used as paths and mulch.  I checked our coast for something similar, but the shells are returned back the ocean, making crushing the shells politically incorrect.  May need to cross the border;~}  Actually, I’m all for re-population our oyster population.  I just love these sweet, salty little suckers.
  • Planted birdhouse gourds on top of the compost pile.  Need to find a new location for my next pile.  I move them around each year.  I believe in slow composting.  Another name for this “compost” pile is a wildlife pile.  I put large sticks at the bottom and others  on top as well as well as leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc.   I create a new pile  each year for the wildlife to play in during the winter.  Come spring, the pile isn’t as necessary.  In the fall, I’ll find a new location or maybe use the same.  It just just depends on my mood.
  • David and Aster gathered earthworms from the curb that were drowning from all this rain and relocated in the veggie garden.  Aster (7) calls it his victory garden.  His own personal victory of a successful first time gardener.
  • That’s it.  That’s enough.  Despite the rain, the spring maintenances have started and I managed to squeeze some in between the rain, as well as, a couple of consultations.  As such, taking a rain date was actually a welcome relief.


  1. Dave said

    Sounds like you were busy! That’s pretty neat to have your garden featured on the news. Even if it’s just 20 seconds! I like the mulch path next to the shrubbery. Is that a camouflage net over your water tank? Neat idea!

  2. Yup Dave, it sure is. Our flea market has an Army/Navy store where I picked up the camouflage. Worked well, I thought. See you on Twitter!

  3. joey said

    Excellent Helen … you must be delighted! Congratulations on your fine organic garden; a job well done 🙂 Your rain harvesters are a great idea … anxious to hear more (is that your adorable son?)

  4. Yes Joey, that IS my adorable son. Did you count those dimples?

  5. Gail said

    Helen, I am tickled to hear Aster refer to his victory garden! You have taught him well! The water harvesting system is impressive..My little rain barrel does seem small in comparison. We have had an enormous amount of rain in the last few days…and I wish I has a cistern! Fantastic news about the tv segment…gail

  6. Thanks Gail. He’s quit proud of his victory garden. I’ll keep you posted on it.

  7. TC said

    I’ve still got about a month wait before gettin in the swing of things here in zone 5. They’re even talkin snow tonight!

    Dern Yankee weather anyway!

  8. gitaeno said

    Ever consider adding a rain garden to the Haven? Its a way to maximize rainwater use while filtering pollutants from that water before it reaches our lakes and streams. Raleigh (NCSU) authors, Helen Straus and Anne Spafford have just published a lovely how-to guide for southern home gardeners, Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge & Everything in Between, in bookstores or at Come meet the authors at workshops in the Raleigh area in April and May.

  9. Hey Gitaeno,

    Yes, I do have a rain garden as well. I also sit on the board of the JCRA with Helen Kraus.

  10. gitaeno said

    Well, so glad you know Helen Kraus. And forgive me all (Helen K. especially)…my child’s preschool teacher (won’t say how long ago but very memorable) was Helen Straus…I just automatically typed in her name.

    And delighted you have a rain garden. As I learn more about how they function, I have become a real advocate of this way to protect public waterways while enhancing the landscape.

  11. Great site this and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

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