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dealing with huge rainfall fluctuations?  RSS feed

 
Katya Barnheart
Posts: 37
Location: SE Missouri, Zone 7a
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So, I bought and moved onto my new property last year. New to the area, but from what the locals say we usually have about 50" of rain per year.
In 2011, the year I moved here, we had 76" of rain. Lots of fruit trees I planted literally rotted in the ground (soil was amended, but we still have mostly heavy clay here)
This year, 2012, is so far incredibly dry. The locals say the driest they have ever seen it this early in the year.
So, I know planning/planting for climate change is part of permaculture, but I do not really know how to plant plants for this huge fluctuation in rainfall we are seeing.
Last year I planted lots of elderberry, pawpaw around the area that was going to be dug into a pond. They did great with the rain last year. This year, they are not looking so hot.
This year, I planted Jujubes at the top (hottest, dryest part of my property) because they are drought tolerant. Also amaranth and Russian Olive.
Lots of the fruit trees are doing OK, but not going to produce very much fruit because of the lack of rain.
So with huge fluctuations in rainfall like this, where I dont know what to expect, what should I be planting??
Is seems if I plant for the monsoon, the drought tolerant stuff rots. If I plant for the drought, the monsoon stuff dies.
Of course, I am fortunate to be working with a woods so there is lots of canopy cover to provide shade to the ground. I also mulch like crazy.... I now have a cistern built and a pond dug, ready to be filled up... and of course no rain.
Just wish I had a little STABILITY to work with.
Any ideas?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Wow, I have this problem but not to such a degree. We never get 76" of rain. Never get 50" of rain either, I think the most we get is around 40". Drought years are 13-15". What I'm trying to do is manage the water on the site so that excess water drains to lower areas but enough stays in the growing areas for plant health. If I had as much rain as you do I would probably try to have a lot of ponds. To promote plenty of elevated growing areas which yet retain sufficient water for plants I would probably try tall hugelkultur. With climate change we can probably expect more extremes of drought and flood......I think trying to grow the greatest diversity of plants we can and providing the greatest diversity of growing sites, from dry to wet, is the best we can do.....This makes gardening a bazillion times harder than it is for people with relatively stable conditions (if such exist anywhere anymore)....
 
Isaac Hill
gardener
Posts: 357
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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Just keep doing what you're doing! With those unstable weather patterns it seems as though having a cistern and a pond are the first things you'd want. Trees take a long time to get established, and it's easy to get discouraged when things don't turn out the way they were supposed to, but the trees that survive will be stronger and more capable of weathering the weather, and once the whole system is established it will be much more resilient.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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the last 3 or 4 years we have been having feast or famine weather here too, way too hot and dry and way too cold and wet..

in my opinion the best way to deal with it..esp with the clay, is to NOT plant in any kind of a basin that might flood, but mulch to prevent the problems with drought..add wood product to the soil to hold water, and add a rock near the trunks to hold warmth and drip dew..even a piece of wood or two on top of the soil might be helpful..along with the mulch..

make sure in the clay things will drain if they get TOO wet, but the mulch and rocks and wood will hold in water for the dry spells..
 
Jay Green
Posts: 587
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You could try to plant or promote the kind of trees and shrubs that are native to that area. Instead of fighting the climate, try to work with it. Notice where those native trees do best..low lying areas vs. on ridge tops. Notice what fruit tree kinds/types are already growing wild in the area and try to work with those or even graft onto those. You could even talk with the neighbors and see what they have tried and failed to grow or what is growing well at their place.
 
neil bertrando
Instructor
Posts: 111
Location: Reno, NV
15
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sounds like your off to the right start. patience being the unwritten permaculture principle.

of course I'm biased by my personal favorites. I think Hugelkultur and keyline both would help with your situation to balance the extremes of wet and dry. in general topsoil developments accomplishes this. other strategies are swales where 'raised bed berms' help with clay and drainage issues. increasing organic matter and oxygen in your soil would be my primary goals for managing the water cycle.

i'd look at cover crops with a wide range of tolerances...vetch, fava beans, daikon, grains, clovers
plants like comfrey and borage might help depending on your needs and plans

woody's like eleagnaceae, rhamnaceae, woods rose and rugosa rose, lilac, black locust, mulberry, elderberry (black and blue), honeysuckle (maybe) i'd look at species that tolerate innundation and drought...often salt tolerant species are in this category (atriplex) for example. take a walk along some riparian corridors and note the plants that grow on the top of the channel and abondonned terraces. then plant analogs or these species.

not sure what your climate ranges are for temp, so take species suggestions with a grain of salt.

best of luck
 
maikeru sumi-e
Posts: 313
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Find out what the short-term and long-term weather trends are. We're also dealing with highly unpredictable weather here. I lost most of my fruit set this year due to sudden chills/freezes and snowfall while the trees were flowering. Am compensating for it by planting more melons and squashes since I know, according to the forecast, that we're in for a hell of a hot summer.
 
Katya Barnheart
Posts: 37
Location: SE Missouri, Zone 7a
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Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. I really appreciate it. I think that this is a pretty important issue, as I think the climate is only going to get more unstable as we go... so knowing how to deal with it is key.
Fortunately, the temperature HAS been pretty stable... that would be hot as hell. It has not been cold since I got here, honestly. I somehow escaped the late frost that so many got and I am lucky in that respect. Of course, my fruit trees are not really to bearing age so doesnt really matter...
Brenda-
I put in a lot of raised beds (on contour lines of my property) and only recently got the "aha!"' of hugelkultur. So will be re-doing them and adding more shortly. Wood/branches are something I have PLENTY of living in the forest...
So that everyone knows I am in SE Missouri, about an hour west from the Mississippi, zone 7a/6b according to what map you are looking at. But so far the temps have been EXACTLY like where I moved from, Upstate SC. My property was/is an early succession regrowth forest from when it was logged ~7 years ago. Soil is rocky, clayey, but has some good topsoil where leaf mold has had a chance to make some.
So here is my plan/what Im currently doing:
Keep on experimenting with plants that are in general just plain hardy... If they die, so be it.
Graft all the trees I can into more useful things- this includes dogwood into cornus mas, wild plum into plum, peach, apricot, hawthorn into pear.
No berms. In drought years, will be good but In flood years, this will be very bad.
Cover cropping with mustard, wheat/vetch and triticale/vetch to improve soil.
Fortunately I live in cow country and have access to unlimited old cow manure, which I use frequently
Try to make areas that will always be drier and wetter- pond area is in the shade, lowest part of property. Someday there will actually be water in the pond too, hopefully :/ This is for things like pawpaws, elderberries, etc. Top of hill is full sun and dry. Jujubes, autumn olive and grapes are here. So HOPEFULLY in years of drought the pond area will stay wet enough to support the moisture-lovers and in wet years the water will drain off the hill in a decent manner.
Put in hugel beds, gravel around base of trees, mulch mulch mulch.

Thanks again everyone!!
 
neil bertrando
Instructor
Posts: 111
Location: Reno, NV
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not sure why berms would be bad? can you clarify?

I'd like to know more because my understanding is that swale systems have been used in vietnam, ecuador, tropical australia, and other wet climates with good results.

curiosity is a permies best friend
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
182
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I was thinking the same thing, neil. Swales are often used in very wet locations. http://permaculture.org.au/2012/05/16/swales-the-permaculture-element-that-really-holds-water/
 
Katya Barnheart
Posts: 37
Location: SE Missouri, Zone 7a
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I guess I was thinking that, with the almost pure clay soil that I have, swaling on contours would cause the soil to be extremely waterlogged in monsoon years. Last year, I remember standing water in every little dip in my land. It did eventually drain down the hill, but I was thinking that, in that type of weather, the last thing I would want is something that keeps the soil that waterlogged. Now this year? Yes, swales would be a good thing.
I could certainly be wrong though.... Just trying to figure it all out. What about like a mini-swale?
That was a great article. Just wondering if swales work better in soil that is not clay.
 
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