So I have been reading a lot about permaculture over the past few years and managing water with keyline/swales/hugel etc. I live in the Willamette Valley where we get a rather ridiculous amount of rain most of the year and then a few months of drought. Maybe I have just been missing it in the books I have been reading, but I have not seen much discussion of water management in a climate like ours, mostly desert/dry climate discussions. If anyone knows of a source (or a thread I missed here on the forums) or any suggestions/discussions I would much appreciate it.
Joseph & Jami - My husband recently took a 3 day workshop in Boring, OR on Keyline Design for Whole Farm Fertility (we heard about it through permies.com) put on by Nature's Permaculturehttp://www.naturespermaculture.org/index.html - which could be a great local resource for you two. My husband is convinced that keyline design is going to be the cure to our water management issues.
We purchased about 24 acres earlier this year with the intent to set up a small farm. The land is in Lewis County, WA (we like to think of it as the "upper Willamette Valley") with a similar climate - very wet except for the summer. The areas that are not woodlot have been in hay for the past 40 years. There is no way we will ever get water rights in that area, but we are hoping that by using permaculture and keyline design principles, we will be successful. We will have a couple of acres in market garden vegetables, a couple of acres of forage/grains for feeding our livestock (a few pastured pigs, a couple of dairy goats, laying hens and meat birds, ducks) an acre or two of fruit orchards/food forest, and the rest is a woodlot (primarily doug fir and alder) that we are working on diversifying.
My husband is working on contour mapping the property this week for keyline plowing in early October. Although the keyline design came out of Australia to deal with drought conditions there, apparently you can still apply the same principles to too much water. Since the best place to store the water is in the soil, the keyline plowing is supposed to assist in distributing it more evenly across the property. My understanding is that the idea is to move the water you have too much of in one area across the areas that are not retaining the water. We have lots of slopes (nothing too steep) and some flat areas. The soil is considered "prime farmland" according to the NRCS web soil survey - it's a clay loam. We will be using swales, hugulkultur, 1000 - 2000 gallon cisterns off of every building (house, pole barn, livestock barn, etc) and ponds/dams to capture the rain while it is plentiful. We will also use cover crops, green mulch, mulch, food forests/stacking, etc... Our orchard will be planted on a slight slope and we will be using bioswales.
Can you hold and store enough water using these methods to support this type of farm? Are we on the right track or being naive?
laurie branson wrote:Can you hold and store enough water using these methods to support this type of farm? Are we on the right track or being naive?
You sure can.....
but here in Oregon we have to be careful, rain water and such belong to the state so proper permits and permissions are required, and they frown on to much water storage to matter how much run off you have.
So a couple of things I am wondering about... With keyline, swales, terraces etc., with as much rainfall as we have is there any risk of putting "too" much water in the soil and having slides or other issues with erosion due to lack of proper channeling and storage in say ponds? Also with so much water in the soil could this not be detrimental to plants which can not tolerate a great deal of water or wet feet for prolonged periods? On that last note could hugel beds be a solution for the drought in summer but keeping plants from getting too water logged the rest of the year, and are there any changes in the hugel design, i.e. digging the carbon material into the ground v. building it on the existing soil surface, that would be better equipped to deal with our climate?
I am relatively new to all of this so forgive me if these questions seem simple. I would just like to better understand how to apply permaculture in practice here in the Willamette Valley. Thanks for the responses!
Generally your soil type and it's slope are what determine the answers to your questions, so a workshop that covers land similar to yours would be super.
I have an oak forest so plowing is not a real option. Plus I want to limit my improvements to things I can do reasonably without special equipment. Keyline plowing is still to far out of reach for my neck of the woods.
But some swales would help, so I am planning on those.
I've wondered a lot about how to deal with these same issues on the opposite northern extent of the contiguous US - Maine. I'm not there now (land purchase didn't go as planned) but will be buying something that could be upwards of 70% "meadow land" - aka swampy mucky flat area.
It seems hugelkultur will provide some ease in the woes of overly wet ground just by the nature of its wicking properties. The ground may even have standing water around the bed, but by about half way up the height of a 6ft/2m tall bed the soil should be just at field capacity. Between hugelkultur, digging out some ponds and utilizing fast soil building techniques to increase the elevation of particular planting areas, even wet soggy ground with standing water part of the year can be manicured into productive areas.
This, of course, all takes time, so the trick will be to figure out ways to speed up the process while ensuring you are still at least producing something of value (market or otherwise). You can't raise chickens in a perpetually wet area, but ducks might enjoy it. You can't plant most fruit trees in muck, but there's always those thirsty willows. The more restrictions placed on you, the more elegant the solution, right?
Hi Tristan, I'm also working with pretty wet land in NH -- some seasonal high water table, some just plain muck. On just a hand-labor scale this spring I was able to have a productive early garden by creating beds/paths that basically work like berms/swales. I admit I did not understand swales until I did this by accident...the paths, even when full of woodchip mulch, will fill up with rainwater/water table water and slowly sink back down. I had to water three times this dry summer but I think most years I would not have to at all. Some of these are hugelkultur, but I am waiting to see how the hugelbeds do in their 2nd year before I spend hours transforming all my beds to hugels...this year a lot of rodents decided to live in them and eat my potatoes.
A low wet spot in the yard became a rice paddy. The marshy area has wild blueberries that are not very tasty, but maybe a named variety might be good. There are also rootstocks meant for wet spring conditions...Antonovka for apples, I think?
We'll see how they fare over the winter, but so far I am in love with ducks for this climate. They have been happy no matter the weather!
It's funny you mention that about ducks Zoe - from what I've read they're incredibly hardy when it comes to colder weather. Much better bet than chickens
It's a shame about the rodents eating the potatoes. I had never thought much about hugelkultur providing them perfect homes, but now that I think about it I have to take pause. Did you use already rotten/rotting wood for your beds or was it all fresh cut? One solution is always to adopt a few cats - it would help keep the population in check at least.
It's good to know there are people using these techniques in New England I wont be the only one if/when I get that elusive piece of land under my feet. Do keep us all informed as things progress on those hugel beds too - hopefully you'll gain a couple weeks of growing this spring AND deal with the water issues in one shot!
I do have a cat and he's a great mouser, but he does not go near the garden! I guess this is probably for the best, because it also means he doesn't think it's his litterbox.... The main shame about the potatoes is that the mice/voles/whatever left me the shells and ate out the middles so I could see all the lovely potatoes I *would* have gotten. So I'm not giving up just yet!
To answer your questions about the hugelkultur content, I used a base of really rotted pine with fresher stuff on top. This might be the problem -- maybe I need to pack those smaller twigs more densely to keep from creating perfect hidey-holes as they rot!
I have seen pictures of ducks playing in the snow, so I have good hopes for them in the winter. I sure hope so, because I really adore them. They love water, they love bugs, and I have plenty of both!
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