Win a copy of For the Love of Paw Paws this week in the Fruit Trees forum!
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Anne Miller
  • paul wheaton
stewards:
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Mike Jay Haasl
  • Burra Maluca
garden masters:
  • James Freyr
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Steve Thorn
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Dave Burton
  • Pearl Sutton

Earthworks Using Plants

 
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi,
I'm in a bit of a tricky situation. Let me explain.
1) The land is not mine, but I will have the right to use it. It will be under a usfruct contract.
2) I'm trying to spend what (very) little money we have on this project wisely.
3) The land size is 1 Ha/2.5 acres

In the original design, there are 6 swales and 3-4 ponds. I imagined the ponds to collect rainwater that I would then pump out. But I don't have a way to impound the water for summer use, so there goes the effectiveness of the ponds, unless they are sealed, which I've heard isn't easy (even if I'm on heavy clay).

To make matters worse, any visible land modification project (any hole) needs a geologist (500-800 euros) + 6 months in the town hall as it waits for approval. That means no ponds, no raised beds, no swales -- unless you're willing to pay the price.

Last night I was considering just working with the landscape as is and using a succession of plants to meet my goals.

Such as:
1) Where there are contour lines, planting a hedge of fast pioneers (black-locust is ever-present here) and other trees which could break up the clay along the contour and provide infiltration and water pacification. It would also act as a biomass accumulator line, which I could accentuate by piling whatever biomass I had there. I could then plant my target trees in and around those n-fixers which would then become chop and drop.

2) Where I imagined ponds (because of the naturally wet area) I could plant willow and clumping bamboo.

I would rather invest my money in plants than bureaucratic messes.
As for water, at least in the establishment phase I could invest in bringing municipal water to the property.

On other land I've been more daring, but I have the feeling that a complaint from the neighbors could create a horrible situation where someone has to go to court for digging a hole.

Any thoughts as to the effectiveness of bio-engineering without earth-movers?

Thanks,
William

edit: I thought of using pigs to dig out the ponds for me naturally, but I don't think that would go over well with my vegan co-creator, and I think they would suffer the heat in that spot.
 
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
185
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hey William!
I just saw this thread. Very interesting questions!

William James wrote:
Last night I was considering just working with the landscape as is and using a succession of plants to meet my goals.

Such as:
1) Where there are contour lines, planting a hedge of fast pioneers (black-locust is ever-present here) and other trees which could break up the clay along the contour and provide infiltration and water pacification. It would also act as a biomass accumulator line, which I could accentuate by piling whatever biomass I had there. I could then plant my target trees in and around those n-fixers which would then become chop and drop.

2) Where I imagined ponds (because of the naturally wet area) I could plant willow and clumping bamboo.

I would rather invest my money in plants than bureaucratic messes.
As for water, at least in the establishment phase I could invest in bringing municipal water to the property.



I honestly think that you're on the right path with planting hedges on contour and building up biomass "berms" on the uphill side of them (which would naturally occur because of gravity, anyway). Perhaps placing larger limbs and logs on the uphill side would help the accumulation process along. See the image below from
http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/wp-content/gallery/assortment-of-water-harvesting-images/



I have a few questions based on your original post. Going on the premise that : a)swales are tree growing systems design to rehydrate the landscape and b) ponds water retention/storage areas for dry times.
--first of all, what kind of climate are you in? I know a lot of Italy is Mediterranean, but not all. How much precipitation do you get and when? What's the temperature range, distance from ocean, etc? Do you know your Koppen designation? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6ppen_climate_classification
--what is your goal for this property? What kinds of yields do you want to achieve?
--are there other ways of storing water on the property besides in ponds? For example are there structures from which you could harvest rainwater and store in cisterns (an expense, I know, but perhaps not needing of a permit and the lengthy process that goes along with it)?
--When (dry months) do you need this water?
--have you considered working within your existing water budget and re-evaluating as your "hedge swales" start to rehydrate the land (rehydration taking on average 7 years with swales)? To calculate water budget, go here: http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/rainwater-harvesting-inforesources/rainwater-harvesting-online-calculator/ The assumption being that as your hedge swales begin to hold and sink water and you simultaneously build biomass mulch, your water storage needs will become much, much less and possibly make the need for ponds redundant. If you are in a Med climate, you'll lose quite a bit of that water to evaporation, anyway whereas the water stored within the soil, under biomass would be better retained.
--if you live in a rocky area, you could also consider using rock lines to harvest water run-off and accumulate biomass.



You could also try zai pits if you think digging small holes wouldn't get you into trouble.



Just a few thoughts, anyway. Sounds like a VERY interesting project and I wish you the very best!

Jen in Phoenix, Arizona USA
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
--first of all, what kind of climate are you in? What's the temperature range, distance from ocean, etc?

Not quite Mediterranean. I'm 160 km from any major body of water (genoa) so I lose the maritime effect. I don't know the exact inches/cm of precipitation, but it comes from September to May, and the last two years we've gotten next to nothing in from May to September. This year it rained a little twice in 3 months. The summer temps are high (35-40's c) and the winter gets cold (0-5c).


--Do you know your Koppen designation?
It looks like CWA. I am on flat land but I can see the first mountains of the alps from my window. They are about 20 km away.

--what is your goal for this property? What kinds of yields do you want to achieve?
I want to bring it back into fertility, get some annual production going while tree crops grow, then have annuals on the south side and a food forest on the north side. I want the site to be a place where we can run educational courses too. Perhaps some chickens, but I'm not prepared for that yet. I'm looking to be productive enough to be able to sell annual veggies, fruit, nuts, berries, mushrooms. Hoping to generate enough income from this and perhaps a couple other sites to maintain myself and another person. We currently run fundraising dinners about once a month with the stuff we grow and that usually brings some money in, but just enough to break even since we have a lot of start up expenses.

--are there other ways of storing water on the property besides in ponds?
There is a structure on the site which could drop water into a cistern and we've thought about it. But the amount of water we need is far beyond what we could accomplish with cisterns. We will probably do the cisterns in the end, but getting municipal water is a higher priority.

--When (dry months) do you need this water?
May-September. Probably need about 40,000 liters. Maybe a little less, but that's going on 400 liters per day with drip lines on annual gardens. I am planting shrubs and trees in the annual beds to help get water from below.

--have you considered working within your existing water budget and re-evaluating as your "hedge swales" start to rehydrate the land (rehydration taking on average 7 years with swales)?

My current water budget is zero. Building ponds won't suffice for the summer months, and outside of that time-frame I don't really need water.

The other huge problem is that I measured contour in May and now all the markers are invisible through the tall grasses and other plants. Was planning on waiting until the snow compacts the grass and I can see the contour lines again. Then I'll mark them better.

Good idea for the rocks, but I don't have enough. The zii or pit gardening might work for the summer. Was planning on a crop of corn, but I was planning on tilling for that, as I have always had bad luck with corn and I think it's because corn needs tilled land.

I was also planning on taking advantage of the plants that will grow naturally, either by using them as shade, n-fixation (lots of black locust here), or for grafting. I weed-ate 2 or 3 oak trees today by accident that could have been useful.

Thanks for the response. Lots of help.
William
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
185
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
William - your project just sounds so cool.

So another thought now that you are in or approaching your "wet" season - how about doing a modified version of keylines/deep ripping. You don't have to have access to a keyline plow or even know exactly where your contour lines are. In a lot of dryland situations, keylines are ripped between swales for additional water soakage. On a 1 ha plot, you could use a shovel for this. I'm assuming you know where the highest point(s) are on your land. Simply take a shovel and stick it in the ground like a knife, as deep as it will go, give the shovel a little wiggle to pull it out again (don't actually remove any dirt) and reset your shovel right next to the area you just cut and repeat. Continue spiking your shovel like this in a line - if you know sort of where contour is, use that as a guide. But honestly, on flat land, it won't make that big of a difference. I've done this to areas of my yard, not even in continuous lines, but in groups here and there and it works well. The idea is just to create some deep pathways for water and nutrients to soak in and slow water runoff.

Corn would probably work pretty well in a zai pit situation. Another variation on zai pits is imprinting http://www.imprinting.org/ - this is how desertified land in the SW USA is being reclaimed and native plants restored. Essentially it's a mechanized way of creating small zai pits. It's also a nod to the way native Americans dry farmed the area long ago.

Now, as I'm writing this, I'm thinking.....I would consider planting a veggie bed with small zai pits (cup sized) with ripped lines every couple of rows following contour (or close to contour if you know where it is). In the Negev desert, they discovered that many tiny water catchments were exponentially better at rehydrating the land than a few large catchments. It might take a year or two to reach the kind of production you want but that's common.

I would really love to see pictures as you progress on this project. I wish you the best of luck - I think you have a really great idea going and success will be yours.
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Jennifer,
The main problem I see with Zii and imprinting is that those techniques seem to be geared toward places where there isn't much weed competition. I could be wrong. We have major weed competition, so it's not just the absence of water (because a lot of other things grow). It looks like in those videos if you didn't do the zii, the place would not vegetate.

About the ripping, we did exactly that the first time. We had to take down the previous season's corn production, we ripped it.

https://permies.com/t/28494/earthworks/Yeomans-Plow

Then weeds and grass grew.

We had the intention of spreading a mixed cover crop on the whole field, but we realized that managing the whole hectare would be impossible (as evidenced by lots of vigorous pioneers). We opted for a bit-by-bit philosophy, which will also give us time to develop new strategies and trial them. There is just so much you can do with 1 hectare (2.5 acres) that it'll take 5-10 years to even get close to filling it in. And it will give us the chance to take opportunity of what the untouched land has to offer. Right now that means some oaks (which I found under my weed whacker) and some black locusts, and some lambsquarters.

It will also give us time to develop the "social capital" to make it so the projects we propose to the public and get paid for help develop the site in some way. That was another breakthrough this year.

Since you're interested, here are some pics of the first interventions. One is of the hedgerow we grew with Aronia, Amelanchier, Figs, Jujube, Dogwood, and some filler plants (Carpino/Hornbeam, Forsythia). The other is the annual gardens, 5 of them, which were dug to 90cm beds with a 70cm path. Two beds are kind of on contour and 4 below are perpendicular, so as not to create a waterlogged situation in winter.

Tomorrow we'll plant them with winter vegetables that can stand the cold so we don't need to put them under tunnels.

Best,
William


hedge.jpg
[Thumbnail for hedge.jpg]
beds.jpg
[Thumbnail for beds.jpg]
 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
313
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

To make matters worse, any visible land modification project (any hole) needs a geologist (500-800 euros) + 6 months in the town hall as it waits for approval. That means no ponds, no raised beds, no swales -- unless you're willing to pay the price.



I am looking at land in a region with strict 'Water Rights' laws. Any impoundment of water (ponds, cisterns, etc) is considered theft!
But, the absolute best place to store water, is in your soil.

The creation of swales & berms is questionable under existing laws, but "they" cannot stop me from using common, existing farming practices. For example, it is customary to plant potatoes in a trench, and keep adding soil on top of the plants as they grow. With a short growing season, to me it makes sense to create the trenches in autumn, (and piling my soil just downhill) when the soil can easily be worked, so that it is ready for spring planting without further ado. It also makes sense to dig these 'potato furrows' along contour, where the crop can make use of 'my share' of the rain that falls on my land. Our rainy season is from autumn until spring. My furrows would store that rain in my soil, just where I want it, no pumps, pipe, emitters or other expenses involved. I see no violation of existing 'Water Rights' laws, and I don't need Town Hall approval to plant a row (or 2, 3 or?) of potatoes for my kitchen, or sale. Who knows, in the spring, I may have other things to do, and not even get around to planting potatoes in my trenches that are filled with straw, leaf litter, or whatever, which would be a shame since my ground is so moist.

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
185
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for the pictures, William.

It looks like you had additional tillers to the deep ripper blades when you did this?

You know, I just finished Geoff Lawton's online PDC (great class, and my 2nd PDC) - he goes into some depth about how when you rip or dig swales, you immediately have to get in there with a diverse cover crop (mainly legumes) so that they will hopefully outcompete the pioneer species.

You are right about the zai pits/imprinting - not much would grow in those areas without this technique because there is no mechanism to hold and soak water and nutrients. Some pioneers always manage to grow, but they are not necessarily the plants you want - even if you are restoring native habitat.

I'm really learning a lot from your project - thanks for the continued information!
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:
You know, I just finished Geoff Lawton's online PDC (great class, and my 2nd PDC) - he goes into some depth about how when you rip or dig swales, you immediately have to get in there with a diverse cover crop (mainly legumes) so that they will hopefully outcompete the pioneer species.



This is true, but if I had done that, I would have blown 200 euros of seed in one drop. To manage the newly-ripped hectare, I would have needed to rip, seed, possibly till, rip, seed. Or plant a lot of other plants which would have been beyond any reasonable budget. De-stalking and ripping cost 150 euros.

So we opted to let nature go through it's own successions until we needed a piece of land for a well-defined project, then we will clear and seed that small area, which would save us a lot of money.

The cover crop should be only a prelude to a perennial cover crop and should only be done once or twice, in my opinion. If you're throwing annual cover crops at perennial weeds, the perennial weeds will win the moment you stop throwing seed at it. My mix has clover, but in a small amount.

Plus, I believe that those weeds are probably doing more for the land than I can at this moment. There are some big weeds with fat, fibrous roots that are going down and rotting and breaking up the soil. Others are just providing biomass to "cover crop" the land.
It's also growing oaks, for instance. I had oaks in my design, and nature has saved me the time and energy of planting them. How great is that?

John: great idea for traditional farming practices not needing authorization. And if the happen to make swales, oops.

William
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
185
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yeah - you're right about the seed cost all at once. I seeded my (much smaller) urban yard with black-eyed peas and lima beans I purchased in bulk at one of the natural food stores - it was pretty cheap that way but for 2 acres, it could add up fast.

I know Geoff shows seeding with fast legumes (understory, herb and shrub level) as well as planting overstory legumes which he grows out in continuously in a little nursery on his property.

Like you said - the weeds are probably doing a great job building the soil for you until you can get to that area. I hope you post more pics as you go along. I would also be interested in hearing more about the community aspect of this project.
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have heard somewhere that Geoff overstates n-fixers for temperate climates. I did the calculations based on his indications for n-fixer ratios and the seed and transplant needed per even 100 square meters was enormous. If I had the money, I would love to try his stacking ratios to see what happens.

Some people just have a mix of seeds that they keep on hand, and every time they do earth-moving they put those seeds down. Something perennial and creeping, like clover, is great. I have managed to dominate a small area with just one or two seedings. It tends to stick around and keep other weeds at bay, you cut it once or twice a year, and that's it.

William
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
185
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

William James wrote:I have heard somewhere that Geoff overstates n-fixers for temperate climates. I did the calculations based on his indications for n-fixer ratios and the seed and transplant needed per even 100 square meters was enormous. If I had the money, I would love to try his stacking ratios to see what happens.



Interesting - I've never heard about different ratios for different climate zones - although now that you mention it - it would seem to make sense.

I know Geoff uses a LOT of n-fixers because he's trying to "fast track" the natural succession.

Here in the desert SW USA - we lack nitrogen in a big way. Fortunately, nature has filled that gap with many, many leguminous trees and shrubs - they dominate here.

William - please do post some more pictures as you go along - this is really a wonderful project you have going. Thanks so much for sharing! Would love to see pics of the community meals too! So often community building is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding aspects of a project.

Best,
Jen
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here's the new site. Some pics there:
www.progetto-iqm.com

William
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Good news! We just went to the town's permit office and they showed us where in the Law it says that for agricultural purposes we can do as much soil shaping as we want, and build semi-permanent (no concrete base) greenhouses.

Good to know, since we were well on our way to doing exactly those two things.
William
 
master pollinator
Posts: 8753
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
717
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You would be wise to read all of those rules again. It's much easier to do things when there is no need to hide.
 
Posts: 50
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi all,

William, I'm in Spain, in the mountains near Madrid, with a climate similar to yours, just colder in the winter.

I wanted to tell you that here in Spain we have a traditional technique similar to zais called "alcorque". They are bigger and shallower, but often connected to each other so they can be watered when needed.

Lots of luck in your project,
Lucía
www.unasuertedetierra.blogspot.com.es
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes!
I've been looking at this desert corn farming thread, and it seems that the zais, alcorque, and this might be along the same lines.

Something like this would work if I planted after spring rains stopped for good. Not much chance of water filling up the hole, and not much chance of weeds overtaking everything, as their time has passed for the most part.

https://permies.com/t/31794/desert/Desert-Corn-Growing-Techniques
https://permies.com/t/31794/a/13969/Project%20Deep%20Roots.pdf?download_attachment=true

I'll go out and try this today or tomorrow.
William
 
Lucia Moreno
Posts: 50
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
One thing about planting trees in alcorques: don't forget to enlarge the alcorque as the tree grows so there will be water in the rain shadow line, where the tree has water-catching roots. Also, this big alcorque could be also useful for guild plants under the tree, kind of like a Mediterranean version of the banana pit (much, much shallower, of course).

Good luck!
Lucía
www.unasuertedetierra.blogspot.com.es
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Lucia,
Can you send me a link or two? All I'm able to find is urban rain grates around trees. Having a hard time imagining what alcorques are.
Thanks.
-W
 
Lucia Moreno
Posts: 50
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi William,

the problem is that "alcorque" has come to mean "marked area around a tree", so you will get lots of pictures of things that are not useful for passive watering.

Check out this blog entry: http://amorhumoryrespeto.blogspot.com.es/2014/04/un-sistema-de-riego-basado-en-el.html. These girls have made a system of communicated alcorques to water their newly planted food forest. The system is not conceived to catch rainwater, but to easily water the trees with stored water, but it could be easily modified to catch rainwater. You will see an alcorque in the fourth picture (it is seen from the canal that feeds it). There are interesting links in this entry about traditional arabic watering methods in Spain.

In this forum entry: http://foro.fuentedepermacultura.org/index.php?topic=1654.0. You will see a huge alcorque made with stones that catches rainwater (first and second picture).

In this blog entry: http://lahuertadelaalegria.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/mayo/. You will see zuccinni planted in individual alcorques made with rocks. (thrid picture)

The first picture here: http://www.jardineria.pro/plantas/alcorque-tecnica-de-jardineria/#.U4doYHb-hIU. illustrates alcorques made to catch water when watering with a hose.

In this manual: http://www.agrobyte.com/publicaciones/castano/cap7_1.html. You will see an alcorque made to communicate with others. Scroll down. The picture is right before parragraph "7.4.5"

Hope that helps!
Lucía

 
The problems of the world fade way as you eat a piece of pie. This tiny ad has never known problems:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!