Misleading Averages

Averages are just average.  No real magic here.  Averages are descriptive, not predictive, and macro, not micro.  Take enough years worth of weather information and you’ll see a picture of “normal” with the understanding that in any given year there is no normal.  Graph the data, zoom out and it all looks normal.  The bumps along the way smooth out.  The trend appears.  The lie appears.  Those bumps along the way when you’re in your pasture trying to keep livestock alive when it’s 114 and hasn’t rained in weeks?  Those are part of the normal.  But the average rounds them down.

Averages lie.  I enjoyed reading Walt Davis’ book How to Not Go Broke Ranching.  In that he jokes that his part of the world gets an average of 30″ of rainfall but in reality he gets 90″ one year and nothing for another two.

On average we get 3 inches of rain in August.  We got closer to 9 last month (4.5 in 2 hours on Aug. 2nd) with more coming today.  The ponds are full, the creeks are swollen, my gutters runneth over.  Where was this rain in July?

But it will add to the new average.  On average we get 32″ of rain each year.  Sometimes we get more than we can swallow, sometimes we’re in drought.  Heck, last year we went 5 months without rain.  That’s normal.  But the average dictates we SHOULD get about 3″ each month.

I need to find ways to store more water…to sponge it up, to hold it back and to deliver it where it is needed the most.  That way I can survive the normal drought and hold back the normal flood.

There are all kinds of ways to do this.  Keep up with us as we explore our options over the next few decades.

If you don’t find this an interesting problem to solve I would invite you not to become a farmer.  Maybe you should get a nice place on the edge of town.  Maybe get a big lawn mower and a couple of fruit trees and deck/patio surrounding a pool and invite your farmer to come for a swim on a hot day.

I’m in a hurry to get started this morning before the rain returns.  I need to move chickens, pigs and goats then lay out a few more paddocks for the cows so I’ll try to update this with some interesting pictures later when it starts raining.  No promises though.

13 thoughts on “Misleading Averages

  1. I think this is the new ‘normal’. No more gentle summer shower that lasts the day and soaks the ground, seems like it a toad strangler or a drought. This year after I put 10 50 gallon rain barrels around the house I realized it was a drop in the dry pond of 2012. I don’t have room for a run off pond and now looking at burying a water tank. Just starting to explore this option. Will be interesting to see what you come up with. I don’t have a farm but I manage to feed my family pretty well off a half acre with veggies, fruit, eggs, chicken and rabbit. Now looking for a venison source via the Highway Patrol and collisions. Sure keeps things interesting!

  2. Very thought provoking even on a micro scale. The amount of water that runs off the roofs of my house and barn during our infrequent and unpredictable gully washers would probably amount to several weeks worth of supplement for my greywater system…..hmmm…..

  3. Cisterns were very common in this area. We built ponds and dug wells and eventuallly ran water lines from community water plants. Maybe it is time to take another look at cisterns. My Grandmother kept a rain barrel under her gutter spout to use when her plants needed water.

  4. Have you purchased Marjorie Wildcraft’s DVD? I did and it has some pretty interesting info about rainwater catchment, especially since they’re in Texas. It also has a CD of resources that comes with it. A lot of great info about water harvesting there too.

  5. I think cisterns would make sense in your situation. A way to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. If the last two summers are the beginnng of a trend for your area, you defnintely need to be thinking of ways to store water. Good think you’re not in Colorado – isn’t that the state that doesn’t allow you to collect rainwater in a barrel? I think too, coping strategies for the poultry and animals during that extreme heat – more shade trees? Which would need water to get established, a slight conundrum, I agree.

    • LOL, yes it would. And I would be happy to drop any number of cottonwoods and sycamores to build beds with. But I don’t have an excavator. Can I borrow your checkbook? Just sign a few of the checks for me…

      While I’m waiting for those checks I’m planning to put in a few swales on contour with a 2-bottom plow and backfill the swales with wood chips.

      • I’m happy to write and sign checks…just so long as you don’t cash them. 🙂 Keep in mind that you can build hugelkultur beds on the surface…no digging required. And you could add some of that wonderful compost from your many piles to the top.

        Sorry that you don’t like sycamores…cottonwood I get. Sycamores are referred to here as sick-a-mores since they get so many fungal leaf diseases. Of course, they’re usually spec’ed for parking lot islands and I wouldn’t be happy in those droughty conditions either.

        I noticed that you mentioned your winter greenhouse will be used for trees. What zone are you in? Will your greenhouse be heated or unheated? Just curious as to your winters…

        • Unheated. Zone 5.

          After thinking and doing some more research I think I’ll just lay out a couple of new beds of mulch out back and drop seeds in rows saving my greenhouse for other fun.

          I think out loud more often than I should.

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