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Sepp wants to retain water but can draining be a good thing too?

 
pollinator
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Sepp is all about water retention and, confined to the right areas, that makes perfect sense. In an area with high clay content in the soil and reasonably high rainfall amounts, if water pools and ponds for significant periods of time during the rainy seasons (the lay of the land doesn't really allow for it to drain off effectively) over a large portion of the landscape, is it reasonable to plant things such as alfalfa and clumping grasses, which have quite extensive root systems, to open up the soil and allow it to drain better so that other plants and trees can better survive and thrive and not experience root rot or overly soggy feet? Then install water retention features in other specific areas of the landscape. I know that Sepp thinks that there can never be too much water, but controlling where that water is really is the most important part of retention, I think.
 
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Jen Shrock wrote: Then install water retention features in other specific areas of the landscape. I know that Sepp thinks that there can never be too much water, but controlling where that water is really is the most important part of retention, I think.



Hey Jen I do not know about the grasses working for certain, but it seems you nailed it with your last statement there. By directing the water into a swale or pond you directly control where it goes when it rains. Once it's draining where you want it, then you can raise the elevation in some areas for dryer plantings. If you used grasses to improve drainage it would be a very indirect way to address a drainage issue, but I could see it working after a while as succession took its course.
 
pollinator
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Jen Shrock wrote: I know that Sepp thinks that there can never be too much water,



Maybe Sepp needs to get around a little more. Had he visited me last summer, when we were getting 3 times our already ample rainfall and the daily deluges were drowning everything in sight, he would have seen an example of "too much water".

But this year I am ready for it. I've built up the hugelbeds so that there will be places up out of the drink, and places that will flood are going to be planted with things that can flourish in it.
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
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Or I was thinking...if you are talking to someone like Sepp and, if I went with the alfalfa idea, do I just call it improving the soil tilth, bioaccumulation and nitrogen fixing and just leave out the real motive behind doing it?

The area in mind really is almost completely flat so there really isn't draining topography to work with. Thinking of ways to start and then build off / build up the soil in that area. You could chop and drop the alfalfa quite a bit, I would imagine, without impacting it and since it is a perennial the lives a reasonable amount of time, it would do its duty for the time frame needed and then make room for other things.
 
pollinator
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Location: Montana
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By regenerating eroded and degraded water ways this not only creates water retention but it also creates some drier micro-climates. If you look at the plans for Sepp's Project in Kasakhstan, while on a much bigger scale this sounds like a similar situation as yours. Too much water in the wet season and too little in the dry season. Regenerating landscapes is about balancing and buffering these extremes, to provide better growing conditions year round. When removing the sediment from these soggy areas and enlarging the water retention you are often creating hugelkultur (smaller scale) or berms (larger scale) with this sediment.

Having retention landscapes for the water to stay relieves the pooling and root rot problems in your current growing areas. The stored water slowly wicks into the landscape over time, providing moisture to the trees when they most need it. This is a big part of why Sepp is so against liners, they don't allow the water to wick into the landscape. In turn the water becomes stale and now you have a maintenance nightmare.

The spillway you create determines the level that the water can flood during the wet season. The flood zone provides the buffer space between the wet season and dry season, and ecologically functions like a wetlands (a tremendously productive ecosystem). Water is the most productive growing medium, if your trying to create the most productive ecosystem you can, in my opinion there is no such thing as too much water.

Deep rooted and de-compaction plantings can certainly help water seep into the soil. In addition to alfalfa and clumping grasses try turnips, radishes, and the like to help break up the soil. These also provide excellent forage for both humans and wildlife. While this might help a little, I don't think it would solve the root of your problem.

I think Sepp's strong opinion on water actually comes from how much he has traveled the world. All over the world people have problems with flooding, followed by problems with drought. The climate is not the issue, it is our management of the landscape.

In a resilient ecosystem there is enough diversity to accommodate the extremes in climate. For example in a wet year like your last summer John, the Krameterhof would have bumper crops of mushrooms, water plants, crayfish, and fish. Granted the cherries are all going to split, but there is enough diversity in the system to accommodate these natural fluctuations. In a horrible drought (like they had last summer) there aren't going to be any mushrooms but the cherries and pears will be of the highest quality. Their strategy is to have enough diversity that every year, no matter the conditions, there is a bumper crop of something. They don't worry about the crops that are stressed, instead putting their energy into harvesting their bumper crop. It is really a brilliant system, grow an incredible diversity of crops and only harvest the ones that do best in a given year.
 
Posts: 4
Location: Elberta, ALABAMA (5 miles to Gulf of Mexico)
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Very interesting idea. I live in a very wet climate and half of my property has a shallow confining clay layer that results in death to shrubs during the winter. Perhaps Hugelkultur would allow me to utilize this property more fully? However I don't know how long the wood would last on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. I guess I should use freshly cut large diameter logs in order to extend the life of the Hugelkulur? What do you think? Or just build a pond and go with it?
 
Zach Weiss
pollinator
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Lee, if appropriate I would be inclined to build a pond on the low point of the landscape and go with it. While creating this you should also be able to build up areas of deeper humus, out of the flood zone but close to the pond. These would make excellent growing areas and may relieve the problem you have with dying shrubs. The times I have seen Sepp build Hugelkultur it is because he is ripping trees out to open up areas for the water. These trees go into the hugelkultur. If you are in a similar situation and would be removing trees as part of your project then absolutely use these as a part of your project. When this is not the case I don't get the impression that Sepp goes out of his way to build hugelkultur.

In your kind of climate you could expect the wood to last between 4 and 10 years for most species. Some people suggest to use rot resistant species so that the hugelkultur lasts longer. My strategy is often to use the species that will break down the quickest, it's the decomposition of the wood into humus that you want, I can't think of a reason that it would be beneficial to try to delay this. This year Sepp mentioned how the hugelkulturs need to be reshaped every so often, overall they seem like a more management intensive system than the ponds and terraces.
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