July 11, 2011

It's Complicated

All I want to know is --- did it rain?  How long ago?  How much?

Do I need to water?

But it's complicated.  If you have a garden you have a rain gauge, or more likely you have several.  One is never enough because no one rain gauge does what a gardener needs.

The simple cheap plastic tubes didn't really work for me.  The rain knocked them askew, the pointy part that stuck in the ground broke off.

A cute glass tube in a decorative ceramic base broke in the bag on the way home from the garden center. 

The sturdier aluminum stake and tube with thermometer pictured here (from Lee Valley Tools, love them) is better, but it has the same limitation of all measuring tubes: you have to be around to empty it and you have to remember when you last did so.  That's fine, but gardeners want to monitor what happens when they are not there to tend things.

That requires a weather station that records and keeps data and has a self emptying rain gauge.  But if you want an electronic rain gauge you get a whole meteorological contraption that could be used to send manned missions to other planets.  This is really complicated.

The one I got is pictured here, it's from Oregon Scientific, it is sexily wireless, and it has way more than I need to know.  There is barometric pressure and trends and charts and beeping alarms.  There is wind speed and direction and gusts and averages (average of what?  the last five minutes?  the day?  It doesn't say).  When the wind blows it beeps.

There is a moon phase and UV index and heat indicator and arrows that indicate something directional is happening, and of course there is a hygrometer and thermometer and a beep for each reading.  Setting it up took all day.  Beep. Beep. Beep. 

Jim installed the sensors on a big post anchored in the ground, and I planted golden hops at the base to eventually hide the pole.

And the rain gauge?  I can get hourly rate of rainfall, precipitation totals for the last hour, precipitation totals for the last three hours, for the last six and for a period of 24 hours. 

There are animated bar graphs that rise and fall like an electronic rollercoaster and timestamps and millimeters and inches and a confusing system to toggle between displays. The black round disk at the base rotates and does something random to all the data.  It beeps.

Sigh.  All I want is accumulated inches of rain in my garden since the last time it rained, did it rain enough, and how long ago did that happen.  That's all.  Then I can get on with things.

There is always the tuna fish can set on the ground.  It's simple. 

On a hot day your measurements evaporate, and the birds drink the data, but I could maybe use this as a supplement when I accidentally erase everything while toggling, beeping, rotating and wirelessly graphing info.  If the grass is wet and there is water in the tuna can, I could reliably determine it had rained at some point.  You'd think that would be enough to know.


  1. Ha, you would think it should be an easy thing to find ... a rain gauge that works. I had a great one that sat on the stairway post for ages and did the job perfectly. That was until one particular Kookaburra took to sitting on it and smashing his prey on it to stun them before he swallowed. That quickly bought about the end of the rain gauge.

  2. Lol, once you figure this out, Laurrie, you can buy a satellite dish, too, and start your own weather broadcast:) I've got a plastic rainguage stuck in the ground, but I still use the old-fashioned method--if there are puddles in the driveway, I don't need to water the garden:)

  3. as far as hobbies go, I would have much more fun playing around with the techie rain guage than gardening.... different strokes for different folks....

  4. Every hour? every three hours? I can see wanting this data during a hurricane, but otherwise it seems a little overkill. lol

    At one point we had a wireless rain guage from OS, but Gene put it on a gate fence post that shook every time we opened and closed the gate, resulting in a faux .1 or .2" of rain.

  5. Laurrie, Dr. Mel will tell you how much rain we got. Channels 3, 4, 8, 10, and 17 also have the information. And they're so nice that they'll tell you the same thing ten times a day for the next three days in case you missed it. :-)

  6. Bernie, I am so grateful I do not have demented aggressive kookaburras up here! How do you cope?

    Rose, puddles in the driveway are for splashing and stomping and making people nearby wet and muddy.... not for measuring rainfall : )

    Gail, you want my old weather station? It's yours. It is gadgety and techie and broken and high performance! I'll box it up with the daylilies this fall.

    Sweetbay, Ha, I laughed about your wobbly rain gauge on the gate post. When we put this one up the sensor was tilted back and forth and I now have a rain reading of half an inch! I don't know how to correct it. Yet.

    Wendy, I know! I know! : ) But I swear I am in a rain shadow and I get two tenths of an inch while Bradley Airport 8 miles away gets an inch and a half. I live in some otherworld precipitation zone.

  7. I had to laugh! Generally, I just go outside and stick my finger in the ground to see if there is any moisture there. If not, I either water or pray for rain!

  8. This post made me chuckle! :o) If my plants look thirsty, it probably hasn't rained. If my water bill is $300 it hasn't rained in over a month. If my rain barrels are empty, it still hasn't rained. What drives me insane, though, is when it storms 5 miles from us but all we get is more humidity. Grrr!

  9. Your new gizmo is interesting. It looks like something my DB would bring home. I on the other hand use a big tube with markings on it. The farmers around here use them. The markings are large so you can set it outside a window where it will haunt you if you don't empty it after a rain. You can see it from inside during a good gully washer and watch the orange disc that marks the inches rise. Still you have to mark down what it says and empty it.

  10. Deborah, I like your simple system!

    TS, That's what drives me crazy too. The official public weather station reading is 8 miles away, but our rainfall varies so much from it that I have to measure it myself.

    Lisa, A big farmer's rain gauge sounds like it works, but you still have to empty it each time. I really wanted to know when it rained and how much when I was away for a week or more.

  11. This might be kinda goofy but I use a water moisture tester (a couple dollars at any hardware or dollar store). They're meant for indoor plants but I've been known to check my outdoor plants with it too if I'm unsure about how dry the ground is.

  12. Marguerite, I thought about a moisture indicator, but didn't think it would work outside. Good to know it can!


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