Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Rill

We just had two consecutive weeks of blazing sun and not a drop of rain. However, this afternoon, a storm broke, and it poured for about half an hour, enough to make a difference, especially for established plants that never get watered by us. This rain gave me the idea of doing a post on our rainwater collection system.

Rill and clapper bridge

The garden is watered only with watering cans, which can be onerous. We use a lot of mulch which helps, and only water vegetables and plants that have been transplanted recently.

watering cans
Our collection of metal watering cans
All the eavestroughs on one side of the house are connected to two downspouts that end up in a big metal tank. Actually, this type of tank is sold as cattle watering trough, also known as stock tank. It is made of galvanized steel and, if I remember well, holds 169 gallons. We surrounded it with wood and  put a tap above it.

The tank is refilled by the two downspouts or the tap 

When there is no rain and we have used all the water in the tank, we can refill it from the well water system. Filling a watering can from a tank takes seconds, while it is much longer to fill it from a tap. Given that we are off the grid, it is more convenient for us to refill the tank when there is a lot of sun around noon (none of our devices uses more electricity than the water pump), rather than run the pump when we actually do the watering, late in the afternoon or early morning, when there is little sun.

Overflow to an underground pipe

At the top of the tank, we drilled two holes with pipes (one hole is not enough to cope with all the water in a big downpour).  These take the overflow to the drain illustrated above. The drain is connected to an underground pipe (white, to the right) that takes the excess water to an artificial rill. The tank is drained in autumn (otherwise it would freeze in winter, and the ice would split it apart).  As Wikipedia defines it, an artificial rill is an aesthetic feature that carries water some distance away. Three clapper bridges cross the rill (they are aligned with the main paths of the garden).

The rill and the three clapper bridges

 The water table is very high here. Right in the middle of the area where we wanted to build the garden was a spot that remained wet from October to early May. Instead of trying to divert the water from where it wanted to run, we decided to make a feature of it. So we built this rill where excess water from the field accumulates. In summer, the rill dries up, except for the end which is deeper and forms a pond that has water all year round. This is where all the neighbouring frogs congregate at this time of the year. From late autumn to spring, the water comes to almost the top of the rill. We can then just dip our watering can in the rill.

The pond at the end of the rill

Building the rill was a project that was spread over three years as the stones had to be carried from around the property (in wheelbarrows), the channel had to be be dug out (with picks and shovels) and the stones had to be laid. It was an excellent project for the waist line!


  1. A lot of work, and a big payoff. A handsome collection of watering cans, too.

  2. Alain, that looks fabulous. I didn't realize you are off the grid. As soon as I saw your picture of the rill I thought of Hestercombe, where Luytens laid out two parallel rills, just about the same size as yours. I wonder now if they are also part of an innovative drainage system like yours. Great work fitting your place into the landscape.

  3. I love that pond, Alain! I also like your watering cans.

  4. A lot of work, but it's seems to be wonderful!

  5. Beautiful. Reminds me of old monastery ground ruins I've visited in the UK (except the "ruins" part).

  6. Wow, what a great innovation. Practical and handsome too. That's cool, that you are off grid. Funny that our summer has been so different from yours. We've had rain and more rain, haven't needed to water at all.

    I haven't seen Hestercombe, that Furry mentions, but there is a nice rill at Naumkeag that supplies the Blue Steps. Naumkeag is worth a visit. Sheri

  7. I love the rill, and I love the watering cans as well. We have one very similar that we use on the allotment. We have to water that by hand as well, and fill from a metel tank some yards away (not as attractive as your one. The plan is to put in a couple of water butts that take the water from the shed roof. Nice blog Alain!

    1. Thank you Gary. I will have to do a post on the watering cans. Each one pours in a different way and we use them for different purposes. Half were bought at garage sales (booth sales), and half were bought new.

  8. Do you have that in your garden? Awesome. If it rains heavily, then you will be having mini-streams. I love streams.

  9. Wow,what an amazing system! ANd I love the pond at the end.

    It has been very dry here and our barn well keeps running dry, but last night we finally got a really good soaking.


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