Thursday, July 21, 2016

Permaculture Water Systems Videos

If you're interested in Permaculture water harvesting systems, I made two of the videos from the Forest Gardening Course class on Water Wise Gardening available to the public. 

Feel free to check them out:

Video 1: Intro to Permaculture water systems:

Video 2: Tools and devices for harvesting rain water. 

Video 3: Are rain barrels worth buying?

Video 4: 5 Water Wise Strategy 1. Getting water where it can do the most good.

Video 5: Water Wise Strategies 2 and 3: Mulching and Building Soil 

Video 6: Water Wise Strategies 4 and 5: Right Plant/Right Place and Using the Right Plant Spacings. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Water Harvesting Devices and Ethics

I have been doing quite a bit of research on water-harvesting and storage tools and techniques and trying to evaluate different technologies for the cold climates of the Great Lakes Region. 

These days, especially in Permaculture circles, there is a lot of really great research and experimentation going on with water-haresting techniques, from ponds, to rain barrels and water cisterns. 

The opinion I'm coming to is that like many "sustainable" technologies without historic precedent, they are very important experiments, but they remain "experimental" rather than practical.   

While technologies for cisterns and water storage devices have been around since ancient times, it appears that they have never been widely adpoted. Instead, their use has been adopted for specific goals and circumstances, especially where safe, accessible water has been difficult due to geographical or environmental factors. 

There appear to be two main reasons for this: 

1. Cost beneifit analysis - Poor return on investment. If other more "appropriate technologies" were available it usually wasn't worth it to employ expensive or time-consuming technologies. As Permaculture founder Bill Mollison pointed out, the best place to store water has always been in the ground. 

2. Filtering/water quality. The best, most effective, efficient and affordable water filter available to modern man is still the same now as it has been for 10,000 years: a healthy ecosystem. Healthy ecosystems, such as healthy, balanced wetlands and forests can produce safe, healthy drinking water naturally with no added expense or energy. This water is then naturally stored in aquifers where it can be safely stored almost indefinitely, with responsible human land use. Without affordable, appropriate filtering technology, artificially stored water has historially been of limited utility, used primarily for washing or irrigation. 

Which is why sustainably-utilized wells seem to be the best, most appropriate technology for most humans to use to get their water. 

Of course, it's this last factor of "responsible land use" that's the difficult in modern human society, where big businesses feel entitled to pollute community-owned water resources for profit. The second difficulty is that these same business interests feel entitled to destory the ecosystems that are our shared inheritance. And a third is the "sustainably-used" factor, where we are currently rapidly depleting deep aquifers that take many millenia to recharge.     

With these challenges, many Permaculturists and sustainability experts are turning to more costly experimental technologies for safe, reliable water. But it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to imagine a sustainable society or world where we must replace the free services, like water filtration and storage, with expensive, energy and material intensive technologies.  

In the end, there is no "permanent culture" without healthy ecosystems, accountability and responsible resource use. So we must continue to work to defend our rights to rely upon the public commons and preserve our ecosystems and other shared resources for future generations. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Water Wise Permaculture - Tour/Class This Sunday!

Here comes the rain, and finally! A full .1 inches for the week! (as of this writing) Of course, most traditional garden vegetables require 1 inch per week, but at least it's something.


So far this year, the unseasonal heat and unusual dry have had us gardeners in S.W. Michigan working over time keeping their plants watered and wilt-free. 

And yet, 90% of our garden has received no irrigation this year. We have yet to water any of our established forest garden or hedgerow areas. The small amount of irrigation we have done has mostly come from collected rain water and recycled water. 

And that's because we've relied on a full set of stacked redundant tools and Permaculture strategies to create a water-wise garden, starting with an overall site water managememt design. 

And while these strategies are fully "research-based," tested and reliably proven, they are very different from the watering and irrigation strategies promoted by most conventional agriculture/horticulture. 

Because, while many of those "flashy" irrigation systems look impressive, in the real world, analysis of industrial-style irrigation systems has often found that results don't live up to predictions, especially when overall societal costs and impact is taken into consideration. Industrial irrigation depletes aquifers, salts soils, causes soil depletion, and contributes to polluting water ways. Assessments of overall societal Return On Investment (ROI) make it difficult to demonstrate a positive value for irrigation systems.

But even without taking into consideration broader societal sustainability, analysis of micro-level ROI for gardeners and farmers has been difficult to positively document, with University studies finding it difficult to recommend industrial irrigation systems. Even highly efficient drip irrigation systems improved profitability by only $7/acre. Sub-surface irrigation, the Rolls Royce of irrigation systems, increased profitability by over $150/acre, but costs, maintenance, and installation were considered to be prohibitive. The costs to anything other than a massive operation simply aren't worth the fuss! And just wait until one of these systems has a problem, which could easily erase years of profitability. 

It is possible to design very specific drip and soaker irrigation for select crop systems, as part of a whole water-wise design, that are useful, cost-effective, and save time, but as the research indicates, it requires some thoughtful analysis and design. 

Meanwhile, Permaculture offers a suite of water-wise gardening tools that can are low-cost, easy to implement and maintain, and have a proven ROI. Some of them are arguably free, and actually save time! 

These strategies include things like deep mulching, gardening in permanent ground covers, contouring garden beds to catch and store their own water, and managing overall site water resources to get the water to where the plants need it most. 

All of these strategies like mulching and bed design are "holistic" and "stack functions." For example, mulching improves watering, but also fertility, weeding and pest control, so they have compounded benefits, gaining us a higher return, with a lower investment. 

According to Cornell, gardens with just a few inches of mulch have been documented to require half the water, 2/3rds less time weeding, and create 8 - 13 degrees cooler soil temperatures.

Which is why Bill Mollison famously quipped: if you take the money you were planning to use on irrigation and put into mulch instead, you'll get twice as far and be happier for it, too." Of course, we can even grow our own mulches, making it a free option. 

Meanwhile, 4 inches of organic mulch has been found to be as effective as 1 inch of compost for building soil, and building good soil with lots of organic matter is another great water-wise strategy. A 1% increase in soil organic matter can make your watering go further, increasing plant-available moisture between 25 - 44%, turning an inch of rain into 1.44 inches. In one study, this decreased irrigation from 48 seasonal waterings to 36. Each additional percent of organic matter had a similar effect! 

And while saving water and time are valuable in themselves, these Permaculture strategies improve produce quality, too. Rather than simply supplying the minimal plant water requirements as drip irrigation does, these strategies regulate soil moisture, which has a significant effect on the quality of a lot of produce, including tomatoes and peppers, which can get blossom-end rot from inconsistent soil moisture, leafy greens which will bolt in hot dry soils, and many root vegetables that can become woody without consistent moisture. 

If you're interested in learning a whole suite of Permaculture strategies for water-wise gardening, we'll be offering a class this Sunday at 9:00 am. We'll cover perspectives including Bill Mollison, Rosemarry Morrow, Toby Hemmeway and Geoff Lawton. We'll discuss Permaculture's "5 fold path" to water, compare various "water storage" systems by effectiveness and ROI, and share the simple equations that can help us decide the right size for swales, rain gardens, and water barrels. We'll also tour our gardens and see how we implemented these strategies here. And we'll even share some resources on water-saving and recycling, and grey-water systems. Suggested donation, $25. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

July Update!

Here we are on the first of July and our forest garden is swirling with life and laden with vegetables and berries. 

We've updated our Fickr stream, so if there's anyone out there still visiting this antique relic of interwebs past, you can stop by our corner here:

Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking and writing on Permaculture as activism, how Permaculture provides us with a powerful path to reduce the harm we do personally, improve life for the people and wildlife around us, and most importantly, work to directly dismantle and replace the destructive systems we currently use to meet our needs. With this year's choice between stupidity and villainy shaping up to be the most hillarious and terrifying epic bummer in election history, it's good to know we have better ways of working in the world than politics. 

I've also been wondering whether the whole "sustainability" paradigm is helping us out or whether it itself has become the biggest barrier to us acheiving more sustainable ways of life. Permaculture certainly is NOT "sustainability," and more often than not, I'm finding the industry and institutions that have taken control of the "S word" are in direct conflict with our work to create a "Permanent Culture." 

Anyway, I've been trying to organize my thoughts around these "old systems" that seem designed to prevent change and Permaculture as a viable alternative to them, so, if you have any thoughts or ideas about these topics, or you'd like to have a chat about them, drop me a line, or better yet, leave a comment in the comments section....