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Home weather stations improve gardening

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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Backyard Gardener

Northern Arizona residents know our weather is highly variable, even across very short distances.

Weather prediction technology continues to improve, but we simply have too many variables to correctly predict the weather all the time. We also know weather is important to plant growth and monitoring it can make us better gardeners.

A rain gauge, or precipitation gauge, and maximum and minimum, or max/min, thermometer are the two most useful weather instruments for gardeners. They are simple and relatively inexpensive.

Basic rain gauges come in two designs. The round type consists of a clear plastic cylinder with graduated marks to indicate the volume, or depth, of rainfall in inches or centimeters. The tapered types are wedge-shaped and have the graduated marks on a flat surface - I prefer this design.

In both types, the collection area is larger than the storage area. This serves two purposes: to increase the sampling area such that a representative sample is collected and to make the graduated marks farther apart so an accurate reading can be observed.

Proper installation of your rain gauge is critical. The bracket of the gauge should be fastened to an upright post that allows the gauge to sit above the ground. The top of the gauge should be five inches above the top of the post. The gauge should sit firmly in the mounting bracket. Placement should be away from any buildings, trees, walls or other tall objects that could bias readings.

On remote sites such as range-land pastures, a simple rain gauge can be constructed with a 30-inch length of two-inch PVC pipe. A PVC cap is glued onto one end. The pipe is then hose clamped open-end-up to a fence post. Small volumes - 1 inch - of antifreeze and a covering of oil or automatic transmission fluid are put into the pipe and a baseline measurement is taken with a measuring tape. Any precipitation entering the pipe will mix with the antifreeze and remain a liquid even during freezes. When visiting the site, depth readings are taken, giving the amount of precipitation since the last reading.

The oil or ATF floats on top of the water and antifreeze preventing evaporation. This type of rain gauge should be cleaned and replenished at least once per year. It is also a good idea to put a piece of hardware cloth inside the opening to prevent birds, rodents and other small animals from entering the pipe.

Max/min thermometers also come in different designs. The standard type is either mercury or alcohol filled and tracks the maximum and minimum temperature since the last time the instrument was reset. Daily resetting will give the previous day's maximum and minimum temperatures.

Place your outdoor max/min thermometer out of direct sunlight and near the area you are concerned with monitoring.

Electronic max/min thermometers are widely available for reasonable prices of around $40. These instruments usually have sensors for indoor and outdoor locations. Some come with alarm systems to warn when temperatures dip below or above a given set point.

Most now have wireless sensors that transmit signals for 100 feet, and the battery life is two years or more. Many models are also available with hygrometers to measure humidity and barometers to monitor atmospheric pressure.

Some models can be set up for multiple wireless sensors. For those wanting more information, home weather stations are available with anemometers, tipping bucket rain gauges and computer interfaces that transfer data to your personal computer. Cost is between $100 and $300, depending on the features.

Avid gardeners should seriously consider putting in a rain gauge and max/min thermometer. If nothing else, weather makes for great conversation. Finally, keep a journal to record your weather observations.

Better yet, become a resident scientist and share your precipitation data with others via the website. Register for this University of Arizona project and you can view interactive maps, store precipitation data for your location and compare with other rain-loggers. It's fun and you will be providing data for climate research projects.

Follow the Backyard Gardener on Twitter - use the link on the BYG website. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Camp Verde office at 554-8999, ext. 3, or e-mail to and include your name, address and phone number. The Camp Verde office is located at 2830 North Commonwealth Drive, Suite 103. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or provide feedback at the Backyard Gardener website: httpJ/cals.ariiona. edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.

Jeff Schalau is county director and associate agent of Agriculture & Natural Resources for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County.

Copyright 2013 Cottonwood Journal Extra, Cottonwood, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 2, 2013

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