Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Water high. Grow low...mostly!

It's drawing on August now and the heat is here. My mad water schemes, spawned mainly during the winter wetness look and feel a bit different now that shortage is the rule and drainage is mostly irrelevant.

I think the Janus-faced water cycle of this locale is tough to plan for. We basically have two strikingly different seasons: wet and dry. Making water work in both seasons is tricky.

In the case of my largely flat lot, gettting dried out enough to plant in Spring and early Summer is difficult. Clearly, strategies like forest gardening, using perennials, etc. help. However, much simply has to be done with the grade in order to make things workable. In general, in my case, that meant raising the level of the beds above the lot by about a foot overall.

But, here's the rub: now in dry season things drain out super fast thereby increasing my water demands.

The basic structure of my water situation is this:

  1. beds highest
  2. paths just below them,
  3. porous drainage below paths,
  4. baseline waterline below all of that

This is working OK, but if I water heavily (soaker hoses) I've observed that water ultimately finds the drainage below the path and travels away from the beds faster than I like, almost always before the entire bed is hydrated. So, it's inefficient in some measure.

So, here's an alternative layout I'm considering:

  1. Paths highest
  2. Porous drainage below paths
  3. Beds just below that
  4. Basedline waterline below all of that
What would this do? First, during we season the beds are sill above natural waterline of the lot which would keep them dry enough to plant early. Second, because the drainage is above the beds, the beds get the water first and the drainage acts only as overflow management which is really ideal and would (I think) help hydrate the lot in the long-term. As an added bonus, the paths above the beds make it easier to keep soil out of the paths.

One more water thing I'm puzzling over this summer: crowned versus panned beds. Crowning makes for a gentler angle of repose for the soil than panning, but sheds water faster too. Pans have steep sides which tend to fall down unless rooted in place, but also make watering a snap because they retain water long enough for it to seep in.

I'm experimenting.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Keeping Water On Site

One of my garden goals has been to do better with water. Even in our wet winter climate, I've created a very low-tech management system which almost completely avoids dumping wastewater into the city storm sewer system. This is important for a number of reasons.

First, it serves to rehydrate my own ground. That means less watering in the dry season. Keeping water on site means a wetter base to build from. Soil is an excellent water storage system, vastly better and simpler than tanks or cisterns in many ways.

Second, it's cleaner. Water only has to move through a few feet of intact soil to rid itself of many pollutants. A number of 'primitive' peoples knew this and used natural stone or soil systems to clean drinking water. By contrast, runoff water that flows directly from the roof or pavement into the storm sewer system carries with it whatever pollutants it's picked up along the way...automobile excrement, pesticides, smoke, etc. Those toxics go directly into stream systems and harm the creatures who live there.

My management system is super simple. I create nearly level swales or slightly tilted runoff beds lined with river rock and with perforated pipe in the bottom and channel my water there. These have permeable bottoms and essentially become small wetlands or streams when there's lots of rain. I put a line of stepping stones down the center to allow me to 'walk the stream'. This design allows me to dual-purpose water management areas as paths, so I also stay off of the delicate surrounding ground during the rainy season.