It is 139 steps from the growing beds in our little lean-to greenhouse to our catchment basin/pond.  I counted them Sunday on my fourth (but not last) trip between the two, hauling water to start our fall crop of cold-hardy greens.

...The long and winding path to the pond.

By the time we build our house, we will dig a well.  By next spring, we hope to press our sleek metal barn roof into service filling an underground cistern.

...One bucket at a time.

But  the last 6 years since we began transplanting trees to better locations, incorporating native plants into our restored prairie and savanna, and playing with experimental garden plots, we irrigate it all with water dipped from our pond.

Most of that water is hauled in 5-gallon plastic buckets with the aid of a modified canoe yoke.  We got the idea  to use a yoke while watching a public tv program on colonial settlement, and have been really grateful for this elemental tool.

...low-tech antigravity device

Carrying water pails with a yoke is an amazing experience.

Pick up the buckets without it, and the weight cuts into your fingers (especially after the little plastic handles inevitably break, and you are holding onto a wire).  At the same time you feel an immediate and painful elongation of  of your shoulder and elbow joints, which you know can not be good.  Proper  posture?  Forget about it!  And adding insult to injury — each step knocks a bucket against your shins.

...Weighing water.

OR step between two buckets bend forward, fit the yoke onto your shoulders, then straighten up, and you are carrying the same weight, but somehow dividing it between your shoulders and your hands makes the pails seem almost float, even as you register their weight, you feel removed from it.

That said it is easier, but not actually lighter.

I have a great respect (back surgery 22 years ago) for the squishy discs between my vertebrae.  So I don’t fill the buckets full.  I tote about 60 pounds in each load, and every load I haul seems heavier than the last.    After a few trips, I start looking for other tasks to intersperse with the water runs.  So far, six is the most I feel like making on any given day.  Luckily,  that is more than enough to meet our watering needs for most days.

Hauling water certainly focuses my mind on its value, and how fortunate I am to live where it  flows abundantly.   The water I haul becomes infinitely precious, and a hate to waste a drop.   I literally feel the weight of my water use.

Then I drive back to town, shower up, launder my clothes and punch the dishwasher start button. I’m glad I don’t have to carry all that water.

But maybe I should haul what I actually use in one day – just to know in my bones how much water I use.

I wish we could all have the opportunity to weigh our water use.

Let me know if you have carried water, and how.

28 replies

  1. I carry water by bucket from a pond to our garden and that is a long way and up a steep bank so I was grateful this year that the showers of rain were just in time to not have to do a lot. Normally for our polytunnel we use a generator and a pump although the pond we dug for that one is not far but we do need a lot of water but yesterday I did it over the course of the day by hand – if only I had known about the yoke.

    One thing I am experimenting with is using clay pot irrigation and in a growing pot that holds about six lettuces it is working very well compared to our control pot and uses less water. All that is needed is an unglazed pot but not one that has been fired at a high temperature. The water then oozes out as needed.

  2. Hi Joanna,
    Yes, I can’t recommend a yoke highly enough for hauling water. We got ours online from a sporting goods company, but perhaps you can even find one used.
    Can you explain the clay pot watering system a little more? I’m not quite visualizing it.

  3. What I’m envisioning as I read this is a large pot filled with dirt. In the middle plant the clay pot filled with water. And then plant the crop in the dirt in the large pot around the clay pot. The water will ooze out of the clay pot to keep the dirt moist. It sounds ingenious. I don’t know if this is what Joanna means, but this is the image her comment spurred in my mind. It would be a neat way to do container gardening.

    • Hi Dennis,
      Yes, that makes sense. That is always the trick with container gardening — they can dry out and die so quickly in a pot outside.
      I am looking forward to using drip irrigation once we have a source of water that I don’t have to haul.

      • I’ve had drip irrigation in my gardens for the last couple of years. It’s wonderful! Saves so much time that I spent in the previous several years standing out there with a hose in my hand. Now I’ve got emitter lines coming off a main line and I can do a quite good job of watering in an hour to whatever garden bed I want by switching on-off valves. Beats carrying buckets, heh, heh.

      • Yes, I think drip seems like the best way to make every drop count.
        I have visions of catching rain from the barn roof during the cloud bursts, which are predicted to become more of the norm. Then I can trickle it out to the garden during the dry spells that follow.
        It’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other as the plan materializes.

  4. Sorry I didn’t get back to you on this, I thought I had the notify me of follow-up comments ticked but obviously not.

    Dennis you are right and have described it better than I could as I would have forgotten all the American terminology and ended up confusing people. The pot inside uses a lot less water than hand watering with a watering can I have found which is good.

    I mentioned the firing temperatures because a lot of unglazed commercial pots are fired to a high temperature and so does not let water through as easily. Apparently the test is to put water in the pot, if the outside gets wet then it can be used for clay pot irrigation. Here is a little more information too

    • Hi Gary,
      Thanks for your interest in hauling with a yoke. I hope it works out for you.
      My memory was that we got our yoke from REI, but I don’t see one at their website any more.
      I did see something online that looks exactly like what we have here:
      I can’t remember what we paid for ours, but it was around 40 or 50 dollars.
      That seems like a lot, but it is the perfect tool for the job. There are cheaper yokes out there that are beautiful pieces of wood, but I really like that piece of padding we have on ours.
      I have not compared. It’s possible the solid wooden one feels as good.
      If you try that kind, I would love to hear what you think of it.
      Please keep in touch. I would like to know how you like it.
      Happy hauling,

  5. Hi folks,

    Even the most basic woodworking skills are all that is necessary to make a yoke–and a handsome one too. I built a yoke from two laminated pieces of plywood–just glued together, cut out with a jigsaw, then rounded and sanded into a pleasant shape that fits just me. The wood came from discarded trash from homebuilding sites, was free. The only cost was the time–four or five hours, and the ordinary yellow glue laminating the thing together. With two lengths of rope and some free forked sticks whittled and sanded smooth for the bucket bails–it works great. It’s been in use five years or so, and as Drew Langsner said, a yoke will be around when a computer is in tiny pieces in a trash heap somewhere.

    I am 55, and I too prefer to haul five gallon buckets half full or so.

    • Wow, John!
      Not only using a yoke, but making your yoke — that is really admirable. I bow to you.
      Don’t you love hauling with a yoke? It’s almost like magic the way it distributes weight into a burden that seems truly lighter.
      I just hauled a LOT of water yesterday. We have our greenhouse all fired up for fall, so all those beds need water, and I needed to do a little spot watering in our garden. It has been very VERY dry here for weeks.
      Then I was at a panel discussion of local master gardeners in the afternoon who all have small water feature fish ponds in their yards. They were talking about how they love to water with the pond water because of its natural nutirents.
      That made me happy about the very rich water I am hauling from my little catchment pond to my plants.
      What are your water hauling tasks like?

      • Basically for vegetable gardening. The water comes from a nearby reservoir, Lake Murray near Columbia, SC.

        As someone mentioned, the water, with its mud, leaves, organic matter, and naturally warm temps in the summertime behaves like fertilizer on summer veggies.

        Hope to get back into that again, as my teaching responsbilities (reading and writing–community college English) have overshadowed, and unfortunately, overtaken my gardening activities.

        I must bwe gettin’ older for sure. Four or five trips with 60 pounds of water or so really gets to me more than it used to. Still, it is satisfying . . . and the veggies and fruit trees love it. Thanks for encouragement.

        As for the construction–so incredibly simple. I used poster paper folded in half, drawn freehand like we did valentines as kids, undoubled to form a pleasing shape. I’m strictly a very modest amateur, and the process was not difficult.

      • Hi John,
        I know what you mean about the water getting heavier. I’m 61, and I am very mindful — no matter that it feels lighter — of how much I am compressing my vertebrae with that yoke and buckets of water. I have found that making a few more trips with lighter loads is a very good idea for me.
        Good luck catching up with your gardening. I know what you mean about that too. I am constantly looking for the balance between writing and work outdoors.
        We have had an exceptionally balmy autumn here in Wisconsin, and every day that I get outside feels like a precious gift.

  6. Thanks again, Denise.

    I do need more of a balance. We Americans have a bad money habit–even those of us who enjoy frugality, etc.

    Convenience is indeed overrated. With your encouragement, Denise, maybe I can get straight back to the garden sooner. Been to Wis just once, but i twas beautiful.

    What are daytime temps like just now?

  7. Thank you for your comments. I need a yoke for our orchard. We are catching water from the shed roof into IBC totes. I am thinking of using a 4 foot PVC pipe with a water noodle for cushion and lacing a piece of rope through with a couple hooks for the 5 gallon buckets.

    • Hi TJ
      You will definitely need some kind of cushioning. The think I like about using a canoe portage yoke is that it is ergonomically designed and rests stably and fairly comfortably across the shoulders. I am in awe of how much easier it is to carry that weight when I pull up just a little bit on the bucket handles as I walk.
      Please let me know how your system works out.
      Good luck!

  8. Hi all…found this post searching on information on hauling two 5-gallon buckets of water. I’m in the midst of designing a simple two wheel wheelbarrow for handling this, for use in Haiti. Wired money today to Haiti for the purchase of two standard wheelbarrows for testing the concept of putting wheelbarrows in the hands of families in three different areas, with the understanding that they will be shared. One family is a quarter of a mile from water. The others are a bit closerYou may find the Water Board I have on Pinterest of interest.

    Marvin, in Arkansas

    P. S. I’m an oldster at 81+.

    • Best of luck with your very worthwhile project, Marvin.
      This summer is being record-breaking hot and dry here in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. Our water source, a catchment basin, is drying up, and we are not hauling much water, and the plants are paying a high price.

      • Denise, I have put the yoke concept in my memory bank. Some of the oldest drawings of yesteryear show a simple yoke being used. The padded, well designed, yoke you are using has to be much better than the simple rod or pole in use in so many areas of the world.

      • Have you mulched your plants with straw, hay or cut grass Denise? It is amazing how much of a difference that does make and saved us last year when we had no rain for a month

  9. If you try it, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to carry two big buckets of water. I would add that my experience with hauling water in wheel barrows is that it works best with the kind that have 2 front wheels, otherwise it can get wobbly and a lot of water goes over board.
    When we need to carry more water, we use a motorized wheel barrow called a power wagon that we got from DR. We can fit 7 5-gallon buckets in it, and we only have to turn on the power when we are going uphill. It has two wheels in front and one in back, so it is both stable and maneuverable.

  10. Hi Joanna!
    Yes, I’m a great believer in the power of mulch. And it is helping. I’m sure everything would be dead without it.

    • I thought you might have Denise. Our neighbour constantly watered her garden through the dry months by pumping water from the pond, but we only watered the most precious things about once a week because the mulch saved so much water from evaporating.

  11. Where do you purchase one of the yokes. I would love to have one for my back woods adventures. The one with the padding in this article is very interesting. What would I look under to find it for purchase.

    • Hi Mike,
      I have just been looking on line to see if I could find where we purchased our yoke. It was sold as a canoe portage yoke, and I’m not seeing it out there now, but I do see several canoe yoke pads on line that look like they would work well. Good luck. It’s an amazingly easy way to carry about 10 gallons of water.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s