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Requesting suggestions for heavy monsoon rains in the desert  RSS feed

 
Brett Andrzejewski
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Location: Buffalo, NY
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It was the rain I was finally hoping to get in the high desert of New Mexico. Yet, it was a lot of rain in a very short period of time. The gutters on the house caught the rain and put into the rain barrels harvesting system I built. The system, 500 gallons, filled up in about 10 minutes and was overflowing into the yard. The overflow and rain not collected from the roof/gutters then proceeded to fill the entire yard. The end result was that it flooded the entire backyard with from 1 to 6 inches of water. See image below:




Since I am still new to Permaculture, I wanted to gain some wisdom from others who have experienced this before.

My questions:

#1: Should I try and keep as much water in the yard as possible?
(Note: The water did soak into the ground by the next morning)

#2: Should I change the contour so that the puddle in the picture drains past the side of the house and into the front yard in a slow manner?
(Note: this is possible as the slope of the backyard is higher than the front, but would require lots of labor)

#3: Will this problem get less dramatic when the top soil and humus is built?
(Note: I am only 6 months into the Permaculture project, the soil is mostly grus, with only a small amount of organic material in it.)

#4: Should I do something else that I haven't thought of?

Thanks in advance for your help!


 
John Elliott
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Brett Andrzejewski wrote:

Since I am still new to Permaculture, I wanted to gain some wisdom from others who have experienced this before.

My questions:

#1: Should I try and keep as much water in the yard as possible?
(Note: The water did soak into the ground by the next morning)

#2: Should I change the contour so that the puddle in the picture drains past the side of the house and into the front yard in a slow manner?
(Note: this is possible as the slope of the backyard is higher than the front, but would require lots of labor)

#3: Will this problem get less dramatic when the top soil and humus is built?
(Note: I am only 6 months into the Permaculture project, the soil is mostly grus, with only a small amount of organic material in it.)

#4: Should I do something else that I haven't thought of?

Thanks in advance for your help!


1. Yes

2. Yes. A judiciously placed swale could do a lot of good. And they don't require that much labor, not as much as regrading the contour.

3. Yes. The big problem with trying to build humus in a climate like New Mexico is that the ground doesn't freeze in the winter and shut down decomposition. You still have enough warmth in the winter to decompose all the organic matter, which means that next spring you are back to square one. Black soils with lots of humus are found in areas like Iowa and Ukraine, where when the growing season is over, biological processes in the soil are put into the deep freeze for several months.

4. Some things to try: (1) work in some biochar. From the walls in the picture, it looks like you are in a subdivision, so I'll go on the assumption you can't build a big bonfire and quench it when it has gotten to the charcoal stage. You could buy bagged charcoal (not the briquette kind, but the real wood kind) and apply it. I find that an immersion blender and a 5 gallon bucket is a good way to make charcoal sludge soup, and you can apply that to the soil. That also solves the problem of it blowing away during application.
(2) Try seeding some crimson clover around Labor Day or so. You are going to have to water it, to get it to grow in your climate, but it's well suited for your winter temperatures. It will flower around February/March and you can either let it set seed and die (May or so) or till it under as a green manure.
(3) Build a cistern. Calculate how many gallons the yard got and dig one in a judicious place and line it with concrete block and plaster (there are recipes for swimming pool plasters on the net). Direct your swales and downspouts to over the cistern area and have some gravel over the (permeable) lid of the cistern. Use the cistern water to keep your garden going during the long dry spells. Well, there goes all the labor you saved by putting in a swale instead of re-contouring.
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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increase the size of your rain catchment! We just caught 11,000 gallons in the past 3 days: http://www.permies.com/t/26606/rainwater/gallons-hours

You need to plan overflows for things. Try and keep as much water as possible on your property, but then plan for an overflow to the storm drain or whatever you might have.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1357
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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If you soil will absorb 1-6 inches of water in less than 24hours.
Then you dont really have to do much.I would not do anything to it.
Where do you plan on planting your food forest?
I am guessing that your going to mainly focus on the backyard so I would keep the water there.

The next step would really be to keep the evaporation rate down, by mulching.
Planting daikon radishes with 3-4feet radish plus and additional 3ft of tiny root (6ft total). That will help infiltration.
A series of swales would act as containers for the water and only the swales would flood leaving the higher ground stay dry.
 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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I think S Bengi is on the right track here. My thoughts-

When it rains as hard as it does during a summer monsoon, you are going to have some standing water. The fact that it all absorbed in 24 hrs says no problem to me. More humus isnt going to completely mitigate that ever. I have 5% organic matter in my soils, and they still saturate at a certain point if we get a heavy enough monsoon.

I would build some surface contour in the form of raised beds to keep the crowns of your plants from drowning. Then heavily mulch the resulting low spots (swales) to minimize evaporation to keep that moisture in the soil. Think about the soil banking the moisture (which it is), then keeping as much of it for as long as you can (mulch). Dont divert the water elsewhere as you will want all that moisture next week when it isnt raining.

Your mulch can also be a living mulch, like a thick cover of white clover or something else that forms a dense surface mat. Anything that keeps the sun and wind off of the soil to preserve moisture. I personally prefer living mulches to dead ones.

The one other suggestion is that any bare soil will really get compacted by the pounding of the heavy monsoon rains. So try to establish plant cover everywhere- trees, bushes, even grass. Anything to prevent the big raindrops from directly impacting the soil. The water in the rain is super good; the impact of the drops, not good.

Also I dont agree with the idea that your climate prevents winter freezing and so will never have higher soil humus levels. Albequerque gets plenty cold in the winter, and I would imagine your soils go fully dormant from Dec to Feb. Some of New Mexico is pretty subtropical desert, but Albequerque and the whole Rio Grande Valley is definitely continental and cold in winter.

good luck, and enjoy that monsoon! send it north if you can...
 
Brett Andrzejewski
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Location: Buffalo, NY
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Thanks for the quick replies and advice.

From the responses I will start designing some swales to direct and keep the water in place. I also have some biochar, ~ 20 gallons, that I made from my neighbor's tree debris. I was crushing it and slowly add it to the top of the soil along with the mulch and plant debris. I will add some to the soil too. After the swales, I will select several ground covers for some living mulch. I might wait to plant them till next spring with the cooler temperatures. When the sun returns it will be brutally hot.

The food forest will be mostly in the backyard. I need to research on the city ordinances to see if I can do a food forest in the front yard. I know most of the neighbors and they wouldn't report me for violations, but I don't all the neighbors really well yet.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1357
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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If no one will report you, dont go calling the city to find out.
In the front put up high walls, or maybe use a living fence.
After they get big enough you might be able to plant passionfruit, kiwi, grapes, etc on it.
Once you now have a little visual barrier you can then plant whatever you want to.

If for what ever reason you cant or dont want to make a living manicured fence.
I would not start off by planting corn and tomatoes in the front.

I would have some landscaping guys come in to do it.
Except I would substitute there 10ft "wildlife" tree with a 10ft graden price almond tree.
And I would replace the flowers under it with some onions/garlic they have really nice blooms
Most plants in the mint/thyme family have pretty flowers, are desert hardy and relatively short.
After the second year, I would grow some squash/melon over the lawn.
And in the 3rd year, I might add some kale, spinach, etc.
Maybe in the 4th year I would start adding outrageous stuff like corns and tomatoes.
 
John Elliott
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Brett Andrzejewski wrote:
The food forest will be mostly in the backyard. I need to research on the city ordinances to see if I can do a food forest in the front yard. I know most of the neighbors and they wouldn't report me for violations, but I don't all the neighbors really well yet.


On my visits to Albuquerque, I have noticed apricot and plum and fig trees in people's front yards, so it doesn't seem like it goes against any ordinance. You could add some prickly pear cactus and call that xeriscaping; some decorative alliums that do double duty as edibles. The ornamental kales that they sell in the garden centers in the fall are pretty tasty when you cook them up like you would collards. Strawberries also make a good ground cover in areas where there is no foot traffic. There's a lot of stuff that looks like regular landscaping, except that on closer inspection you notice that it is all edible.
 
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