If you live in an area of the Bay where fog is common, you might be able to tap into another source of water for your garden.
Fog and dew collection is an actual practice around the world where water access is an issue and fog is prevalent. Modeled after the Namib Desert Beetle, a collector of dew on its bumpy back, the trick of its efficiency greatly depends on the materials used. Just as the redwood tree’s filaments catch fog and bring water to its root system, gardeners can do the same by creating a fog fence or revamped rain chain. Is anyone locally doing this? It turns out that Jean Brocklebank successfully harvests fog water and has agreed to provide a lesson.
Jean Brocklebank is a Santa Cruz environmental studies activist, with science degrees from UCLA and UCSC. She was open to demonstrate her fog collection system and give a tour of her garden.
“Since we live 1 mile from the ocean, we have a lot of foggy days, especially in the summer months. There is always some fog water in the watering can. I estimate that we collect about 100 gallons of just fog water every year,” Jean says.
My research with the Fog Collection Alliance can answer basic questions that most people might have. Fog defined is simply a cloud that touches the ground. It is formed when warm, damp air cools. When this happens, millions of tiny water droplets from 1 to 40 micrometers in diameter are formed. This is called condensation. Many places around the world have fog as a climate condition and a resource. Santa Cruz County and other parts of the Bay Area falls into this category. Creating “fog fences” can be used to capture water droplets, with a little guidance.
According to Aqualonis, creators of the Cloudfisher mesh material, project locations around the world include Tanzania, Morocco, Bolivia, Kenya, and California. Aqualonis, a German company, sells a collection kit for serious fog harvesting, claiming that their collection units are also able to capture rain water. The atmospheric water collected is also said to be potable because the mesh is made of food-safe materials. Though one should consider atmospheric pollution before human consumption. This free-standing system, is perhaps ideal for landowners of large properties but not practical for averaged-sized or smaller lots.
When Jean showed me her fog collection system, the technology was simple and effective. Using the rain gutters, three downspouts were dedicated for rain barrels for part of the year, then for fog collection in the summer. By using a wire mesh as a “fog fence” above the gutters, the collection surface can be increased. As the water condenses, it drips down the modified gutter spout where a metal chain leads it into a ceramic water urn with a spout. The urn was placed on top of a barrel for convenience, so taking water from the spout could be accessed without bending down. She also uses a watering can at the end of the chain.
“Since the rains stopped and in those no rain days of January, February and March, we still collected condensation (fog water) most days. An inch here, 2 inches there and pretty soon we have a pint, then a quart, then a gallon,” Jean says.
Every bit counts.
Fog is essential to the coastal redwood forests. Plants that are fog-reliant have organic structures to harvest fog. These include: western sword fern (Polystichum munitum), redwood, California polybody (Polypodium californicum), California huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus). Their leaf structures help retain moisture that might otherwise be lost to transpiration, the exhalation of water vapor. These water collecting plants, like rain chains, capture water, drain to the ground, then drink at the roots, transpire, then keep their environments cool and moist. A cycle.
Back to the tour in Jean’s garden, the number of rain barrels available for summer watering was impressive. She was set for the season. She was very inventive in her gardening with food growing and pollinator plants. Her lifestyle is true to her principles, conserving natural resources by continuous scientific study of environmental concerns and innovations. Together with her husband, their carbon footprint is minimal by their daily habits. They waste little, they recycle objects, compost food or plant waste, mostly walk to their destinations, and of course, harvest their own garden water.
This summer, might be the one to experiment with fog collection. If there is a gutter there is a way. Jean’s demonstration was so simple that it merits a try: a gutter, wire mesh, a chain and a container. Also, I’ve convinced myself to grow fog-collecting plants. Had it not been mentioned, this technology would not have not crossed my mind to explore. It is always an honor to be welcomed to someone’s home and garden, to connect through naturalism is a plus.
Thank you Jean Brocklebank for the field trip to your garden and the educational experience!