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Infiltration Basin in Cali  RSS feed

 
Celia Revel
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In case you haven't heard (tongue in cheek), California is in the middle of drought. So, with that in mind, I'm trying to make my front lawn into an infiltration basin. I already killed most of the bermuda grass with black plastic on the lawn for several months, mystifying the neighbors. I inherited two lovely birch trees that suck up mounds of water and are totally inappropriate for the Central Valley's blistering summers, but I don't want to remove them because of the sudden impact upon my summer cooling bill. I'm going to leave them, and let them do with what water the infiltration basin can absorb. In the meantime, there are three paper mulberry trees trying to establish themselves in the lawn from runners from the neighbor. I'm letting them be because they have an established track record of laughing in the face at heat and drought. If they out compete the birches, so let it be. I'm sick and tired of pouring well water (not very renewable source) on these trees that simply look sick and palid during the summer. A California rose sits in between the trees and is sending out runners and does well with some supplemental irrigation. With the basin, I'm hoping I won't need to irrigate. I would plant oaks but there are power lines close by and the paper mulberries that are already mature in the neighbors yard don't go up high enough to become a problem. A mature oak would be a big problem.

Goal: not have to water the front but let the porch run off fill the basin in the winter for summer drought protection.

Well, my question is, does it look like it's going all right? I'm digging about six inches into the soil, and the berms around the edges will probably be at least a foot tall when it's finished. Brad Lancaster calls for a nine inch basin, so if you count the berms, the basin will be almost a foot an a half deep? The red circles around the trees mark the point where the basin ends to protect the tree from root rot. Oh, also, I want to spread some mycorrhizal spores under the last layer of mulch which will be wood chips. Does it matter what kind I get? I'd like to go native, is there a particular native species that does well here? I figure today was the first day of the Big Dig, and it should take about a little over a week to finish at this rate.
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Daniel Kern
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One way to introduce microbes is through the biodynamic preperation 500. In this preperation basically you take some cow manure, put it in a cow horn and bury it in the soil. Then the microbes, in the horn, in the manure, and in the soil all interact to create a concentrate of life. This can then be diluted and spread over a large area in order to inoculate the land. native microbe inoculation
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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The fungi, bacteria, and other soil organisms are already there in the soil. Once the conditions for them to flourish are met, they will do their job. I would dig some deeper holes at intervals in your swale with a post hole digger and fill them with mulch, sand or local gravel. The holes will provide vertical channels to store additional water at a deeper level.
 
Celia Revel
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Daniel, the website is incredible. I've been reading a book on biodynamics, and was wondering how to do the manure/horn procedure. It's neat seeing a whole community doing so much on a large scale. There's got to be a site that sells this pre-made though, right?

Jd, thanks for the tip on the post holes. I want to get as much water as deep as possible and hadn't considered doing a sort of French drain inside the basin. I've been digging more, and have found some roots with whitish covering, not all, but one root. Can I innoculate the whole basin with this stuff somehow? I worked on the basin again this morning and did a water leveling test to see where the water is running to, and I have some adjustments to make. As you can see from the picture, the arbitrary circle I made around the tree is just that, arbitrary. The tree roots are telling me where I can dig and where I can't as it is becoming more impossible to dig through the gnarled bulk as I get closer in some areas. It's like Gandalf saying, "You shall not pass."
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Celia Revel
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Update on the basin: It was filled with a layer of junkmail/cardboard and cypress wood chips. The wood pulp from the paper will give a cooler decomposing process, friendly to fungi and tree/bush roots. After doing much reading on California natives, I decided to ditch the idea of letting the paper mulberry exotic move in because California natives like mycorrhizal communities of their own making and many do not like the dead bodies or roots of other species as these create a detrimental microbial community. As you can see in the photo, there are a few California natives spaced out along the edges. I have a couple of buckwheats, a ceanothus, a stickey monkey flower, and soon a couple of toyon. The California rose is doing well sending out runners, and I think it could fill the entire middle eventually. The big bush on the left is coming out. It is an Escalonia, but I think Toyon would do better there. I'll probably plant rye over the winter to strengthen the berm, and add some more sages along the edges. In the spring, I'll add California poppy and lupin on the berm.

All the plants mentioned are extremely drought tolerant once established. The more I read about California natives, the more inclined I am to using them exclusively and in isolation as they are already adapted to this climate's hot, long summers. They are still here after an 80 year drought in the 1500s. The only thing is that they don't like other plants. They don't like permaculture plants that I am aware of: passion vine, siberian pea shrub. I don't think I could do a food forest knowing what I know about these natives. The reason they are so drought tolerant is because of the special mycorrhizal relationships they establish in plant communities. The other thing is the microbes. For example, oaks stay healthy with a layer of only oak leaf litter that creates a special fungus that breaks down the oak leaves slowly. When weeds establish they encourage microbes that break down the leaf litter all at once removing a protective barrier.

I have my fruit trees off the the side of the house, away from the natives. They are more water intensive, but that's OK, as long as I have one section that needs less water, that is good.

Up front, where the rocks are is where the downspout from the front porch roof will go, so this area will be getting about double the annual rainfall it would normally receive.
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elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Looking good! Have any of the neighbors come over to ask you what you're doing yet
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Hi,
I'm a newbie here, also in CA, and while in lurk mode I found your post and wondered how your infiltration basin was doing now, a year later and after we have had some good storms? I am doing the same sort of thing in my new yard, trying to dig trenches and a few deeper holes every few feet and filling with cardboard and other goodies to hopefully hold more of the water on site. Like I said, just curious how yours are doing.

Susan


 
Rue Barbie
Posts: 70
Location: Coastal Southern California
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I'm also in California. Before the rains started, this year for the first time I dug my beds as basins and diverted water from the downspouts into them (after collecting enough rain to fill my 'containers'). On two of the downspouts I have raised trash cans with a garden hose attached to the bottom. I can direct these hoses to any place in the garden that is lower than the base of the trashcans. I just have to periodically move the hoses so the water is distributed better.

This has worked well, though I won't know how effective it's been till later in the year. I let very little water escape from the property and the plants currently in my beds are lush. We haven't had massive rains this year, and the soil (which had been 'fluffed' but not turned) is permeable so it soaks right in without ever forming puddles.
 
Celia Revel
Posts: 81
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Oh, wow, I haven't been on in a while. Actually the infiltration basin is the best thing that's going for me know. The tiny california rose in the middle of the basin is spreading like crazy. Half the house's 1,000 sq ft water base goes into it, and since we actually got rain this year, the bushes are doing great. The California poppies spread quite nicely as well.
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Celia Revel
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One more thing. See where the fenceline is? There used to be big puddle holes along the roadway, but I filled them in, and regraded the gravel area, and dug a trench along the fenceline, and now when it rains the fence line gets crazy amounts of water run off from the road. Between the basin and the road, I had a little trench filled swimming pool for a few heavy rain days. I planted sage bushes in the trench line along the fence and covered with wood chips. They got a little waterlogged and didn't like it, but during the summer I will have trapped all that moisture in.
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Celia Revel
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All by hand
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Doing it by hand feels so good, doesn't it? I have been doing a lot of building with twigs and small rocks and it is enormously gratifying to know that I have done it all on my own.

Your place is looking good. Thanks for the update.
 
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