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I wanna hear from the Western Drought-Stricken Permies

 
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Ollas! A new one for me. Thanks.
 
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Ollas! A few specific words about them!

The originals are awesome looking pots made specifically for this purpose in dry climates. They've been fired, but have *no* glaze on them. Glaze would defeat the purpose. If they're dry in the winter and they freeze, nothing bad happens.

In the Pacific Northwest, we are very dry in the summer, but very wet in the winter, and we definitely get freezing weather. I can't get the "real" ollas, but I've got many that I call fake ollas which Lori Ziemba posted pictures of. Around here, people often use an old plate from the thrift shop to cover them, resulting in some rather colourful gardens!  However, if you don't lift them up and put them somewhere to dry out before a freeze comes, they're likely to split in all sorts of interesting ways.

Some "Terra cotta" pots have been painted or glazed on the inside - these won't work as ollas. Plain Terra cotta will seep water - this is good for some plants in some climates, but I actually find that in our dry climate, they're not the best for most plant situations. The fact that they can't stay out in the winter is a draw-back to using them also. Because others find the same thing, I often find them "free" at the end of peoples driveways and I grab them. I'm not worried about the odd crack, because even if more water leaks at that spot, I just point it towards a plant that would benefit. I'm still getting the water down below the soil line, which means less evaporation and fewer weeds germinating (not that weeds aren't frequently helpful, but if I'm starting with seeds or seedlings, it's nice for my intended plants to get a head start.)

Lastly, this isn't so permie-ish, but I put a very thin bit of silicon rubber around the lip of the pot because I'm a clutz! If I'm reaching into the center of a bed to fill them, I tended to not get the plate back as gently as I wanted - the little give of the silicon protects both the plate and the lip of the pot.

I'm not sure what the purpose of Lori's rocks are, but I'm assuming she's in a windy spot?  I certainly haven't had an issue with the lids coming off, particularly not the sort her picture shows. In fact, two of my squash plants have overgrown their fake ollas so completely that it's serious work to get the lid up enough to refill them and I have to judge by the water sounds when they're full.

Ollas still require monitoring and topping up with water, so if you've got no water they aren't going to help. However, if you've managed to capture rainwater, ollas will use it sparingly and in my climate, they will give me a higher yield with much less added water. They encourage deeper roots and they can get plants off to a good start. I've certainly let my ollas go dry for a day or two before topping them up to encourage roots even deeper.
 
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Living off grid in western Oregon. We have 60 acres with 2/3 of it planted in contour rows of chestnut primarily, and many other perennial food crops.We have a big garden. All of it relies on rain water catchment off of a 40’ x 40’ structure, Plus a low-flow old hand dug well that siphons into a cistern downhill. In total we have 18,000 gallons of rainwater captured -if we get enough winter rain to fill them up. The last couple of years have been less… We use gravity to move the water around the land in buried pipe. Our greywater is simply 1” black poly pipe that exits the dwellings and fills a big galvanized water troughs. I periodically use 5 gallon buckets to distribute the water. I’m pretty happy with the system. We have to be pretty conservative with our garden and watering trees. For the first several years I used all the water to establish trees. Now I’m able to use the majority for the garden. We’ve been here six years. I’ve learned a lot about What can handle drought and how to establish the perennials.  Our soil is super well drained. Are use five or 6 inches of wood chip mulch around almost everything. That really holds water long into the dry season.
 
seth blowers
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This is me continuing… I hit the publish button prematurely😆. We have a Hugel bed with raspberries. It holds water so much longer.. but still needs watering maybe once a month. I like to use fruit and nut trees with taproots (Chestnut, walnut, almond, pawpaw) and to plant them from seed or very young to get a taproot established. Other plants to better grown in a nursery for a few years until they’re big and vigorous, like figs and mulberries. Another technique has been to plant seeds and seedling trees in buried 18 inch tree tubes. For the first year or two I can water directly into the tube without mulch. Holding the seam closed while watering and or making a reservoir around each tube directs the water down. In this way I have established hundreds of trees across many acres. And it protects them from gophers 95% of the time. Later on I can pull the tubes up a bit and mulch.
Relying on such finite water, we inevitably have had mishaps where we lost thousands of gallons. Now I just keep one cistern open at a time so at least I wouldn’t lose more water from an accident (There are six 3000 gallon cisterns connected together) . Something I would like to do better is build up the organic matter in our garden soil so it holds water better. We try to keep everything mulched with straw, which is hard when you have a big garden.  I also use burlap coffee bags as mulch but the water doesn’t always penetrate well.
 
seth blowers
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Chestnuts!
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seth blowers wrote:Chestnuts!
Follow us on instagram
https://instagram.com/teethofthegoddessfarm?utm_medium=copy_link



What kind of chestnuts are you growing?  I have 2 baby chestnuts I grew from a bag of imported Spanish Thanksgiving chestnuts.

Do you get fires there?
 
Lori Ziemba
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Jay Angler wrote:

Plain Terra cotta will seep water - this is good for some plants in some climates, but I actually find that in our dry climate, they're not the best for most plant situations.



Hi Jay,
Why is that?  They're made for dry climates.  I have found that some pots don't seep at all.  The water just sits.  I know real ollas are made of a certain kind of clay, and fired at a certain temperature, to make them porous.  I'm guessing that the few I've had that didn't seep may have been fired too high.  No worries, I just replace them.  There are always pots lying around here.

The fact that they can't stay out in the winter is a draw-back to using them also.



No freezing here  But I expect most people just pick them up in winter.

I'm not sure what the purpose of Lori's rocks are, but I'm assuming she's in a windy spot?



It is windy here, in the spring, but that's not what the rocks are for.  Raccoons were removing the plates!  Or maybe possums.  At least, I think it's raccoons.  Could be the homeless.  I would go up there (it's a community garden, about 2 miles from my house) and ALL the saucers would be off, sitting neatly next to the ollas.  It took me a long time to to figure out that they were probably smelling the slugs that crawl in there, and eating them!  I would leave them be, but other people would complain if the ollas were open, because of mosquitoes.  Seems like there's always someone there who will complain about what I'm doing... sigh.
 
Jay Angler
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Lori Ziemba wrote:

Jay Angler wrote:

Plain Terra cotta will seep water - this is good for some plants in some climates, but I actually find that in our dry climate, they're not the best for most plant situations.



Hi Jay,
Why is that?  They're made for dry climates.  I have found that some pots don't seep at all.  The water just sits.  I know real ollas are made of a certain kind of clay, and fired at a certain temperature, to make them porous.  I'm guessing that the few I've had that didn't seep may have been fired too high.  No worries, I just replace them.  There are always pots lying around here.

My friend who knows much more about ornamental plants than I do, says that just as we are capitalizing on the "leaky" nature of terra cotta pots when we repurpose them as ollas, if you put an ornamental plant other than a cactus in a terra cotta pot, you will find that it will dry out faster and be more inclined to be hard on the plant's roots. Is she right? She knows a *lot* about ornamentals and is on the board of a local cactus club. It just seems that many people seem to give up on that sort of pot and leave them by the road and I take advantage of that and repurpose those I find. The fact that where we are we will wreck them if we leave them out in the winter may also be a fact.

The most recent ones I used were for a fall crop of purple top turnips and beans. I haven't watered for  days and most of the pots had only dropped an inch or so of water, and yet all the plants look really happy despite the dry, sunny weather.

Thanks about the rocks! I would have thought that the rocks wouldn't stop raccoon, but I don't have possums here. Slugs are definitely popular with some omnivores I've met! Personally, I can't blame people for worrying about mosquito breeding, and this is one area where showing you are willing to listen and try to fix a problem could be an opening for other neat things you could encourage them  to copy - like your ollas for water conservation!
 
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For those of you who are near Portland OR and are interested in chestnuts, there is a guy I think named JOrdan Fink who is organizing a massive plant out of chestnut trees. They grow really well here in the PNW but they are better for homesteaders than city or suburban gardens because they are huge trees.  He is on Portland permaculture guild site.  I can help you find him if you are having difficulty.  They can feed many people but take years to grow.  They would be an awesome addition to food resilience for people.
John S
PDX OR
 
Lori Ziemba
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Jay Angler wrote:
My friend who knows much more about ornamental plants than I do, says that just as we are capitalizing on the "leaky" nature of terra cotta pots when we repurpose them as ollas, if you put an ornamental plant other than a cactus in a terra cotta pot, you will find that it will dry out faster and be more inclined to be hard on the plant's roots. Is she right?



Oh, OK!  I thought you meant they weren't good for ollas.  Yeah, she's right.  I only use them for cactus, and not even all cactus.  They dry out too fast.

this is one area where showing you are willing to listen and try to fix a problem could be an opening for other neat things you could encourage them  to copy - like your ollas for water conservation!



Well, I don't want mosquitoes, either, since I'm allergic to them.  But yeah, point is, there's always that one person who complains about everything...

What kind of chestnuts do you grow?
 
seth blowers
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I am growing (grafted and seedling) chestnuts from seed from commercial European varieties (European-japanese cross such as Maraval, Marigoule, precocce Migoule, Marissard, Bouch de Betizac, Maron de Susa) as well as trees from pnw region that have good qualities (especialy The Whitten grove near Olympia).

Yes, we were in the evacuation zone from massive wildfires last year. Our farm had lots of open space separating us from the fire as close as 5 miles away in the foothills, but I eventually evacuated the animals and stuff because it was nerve wracking and the smoke was so heavy (and the rest of my family had already left). A lot of the big fuel for a large scale fire threatening our area has been burned up, but we do annual mowing and fire mitigation measures. Then, in February we had a catastrophic ice storm which brought down many Oaktrees, and in June a “once in a millennium” heat dome that topped out a 115 F. What to say? Just keep doing what you love and loving Mother Earth.
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pollinator
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Apparently, we're at level 4 of 5 drought levels where I live. Historically, springtime is wet, but it seems like it's getting drier. June is by far the rainiest month, getting an average of 75mm. This year, it rained once near the beginning of the month, and I'd be surprised if we got 20mm. March, April, and May were much drier than usual. I think I read we've had about 40% of the normal rainfall so far this year.

We're very stingy with water already, because we don't have running water at all. For drinking (dogs and humans), cooking, dishes, showering, hand washing we use up to 5gal a day. That's in summer, when we're working hard, drinking lots, and getting really dirty. I've been using more water this year to wash ash off greens from the garden. All the grey water from the house gets used in houseplants or dumped on a garden outside the door. It was supposed to be full of things that like more water than I can usually provide. I planted hostas and lady ferns, but they died in the crazy heat we had. Maybe if they'd had time to get better established before the heat they would have been okay. We shower outside and the grey water from that just waters the tree we hang the shower from. We could make better use of that water. Sawdust toilet uses no water. We do laundry in town, averaging maybe two loads a week. No water savings there, just a normal machine using new water for each load.

We collect rainwater off the roof of the house, but we have minimal storage set up. We mostly use it for watering houseplants, but there are some things outside that get water once in a while. I've got some chestnuts planted in what was supposed to be a temporary spot that I've watered three times this year. They're in a patch of pure sand that weeds don't even grow in. I figured it would be easy to dig them out of the sand later, but it hasn't happened yet. I also watered my one producing plum tree once this year. Sometimes new varieties I'm trying out get babied a bit with water just so I can collect enough seeds to torture the next year.

I disagree about mulch only being good if you get regular rainfall. Thick mulch is one of the biggest things I can do to retain the snowmelt and spring rain in the soil for summer. In a year we get about 600mm of rain. If you add water from snowfall in there, it's about 780mm precipitation, 70% of it coming when it's too cold to grow anything. Over the summer months, the rain we do get comes in small volumes each time, not enough to even really wet the surface of the soil, let alone get through any mulch. Mulch also keeps the soil cooler during our hot summers. Beds with no mulch do much worse than mulched where I am.

My main hugel bed that I finally finished this spring is magic. It's a little over a metre tall, one to two metres wide, and nine or ten metres long with a flat top to maximize water collection (hopefully). I'm trying out all new varieties of tomatoes this year, so none of them are adapted to my location yet. The ones planted on the hugel haven't been watered once and they're all doing fine. The first hugels I built have too much wood in them, and they dry out over the summer. The tomatoes in those hugels are alive, but have no or very few fruits on them. Even the millet I planted there is struggling.

I suspect ollas discourage deep root growth in plants and don't help in the long term, but I've only used them once.
 
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Scarce mention of graywater here, not sure why. Generational memory loss? :-)

I saw a few comments about graywater problems and complications, which sound like they stem from lack of basic info. This ground is well covered. Perennials and graywater, if you've got any elevation at all to use, are pretty straightforward if the household greywater can be broken out of the plumbing system (that's the main challenge in most cases).
Recommended long-standing primary reference is still as far as I can see Art Ludwig's  book "Create an Oasis With Greywater":
http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/createanoasis/

And his related publications (one for builders, etc.).

You can get all direct from his site (link above) or from some other non-Amazon ethical source used, such as biblio.com:
https://www.biblio.com/search.php?stage=1&pageper=20&keyisbn=art+ludwig+greywater&omit_product_types=bp,bd,ns&strip_common=1&program=1005&order=

Not legal/permittable most places, but safe as can be, and he has the research to back it up. You will have to make your own choices in your own particular situation re doing what is ecologically regenerative and water-smart, or doing what is 'legal'.
There are a few places I'm aware of where something limited, like a washing machine barrel system, can be permitted, you'd have to check with your relevant authorities (city or county usually).
You could try to change local regulations. I've seen a few institutional/municipal graywater codes and systems, including one a guy I knew helped to make happen at county level. They are all about industrial technology - pumps and filters and tanks and so on. Common sense and gravity and natural biological activity don't seem to fit the 'wastewater engineer' paradigm.

Anyhow, Ludwig's site is a gold mine for catchment/fresh/potable as well as graywater resources. Also his "first principles" for ecological design are a nice complement/other perspective on essentially same concepts as permaculture principles.

FWIW I'm in the Rogue Valley, southern Oregon, drylands climate historically and more so in recent decades.
Official "extreme drought" announced in late April this year here in Jackson county, but we've had some level of drought for decades.
I can recall one fully wet year in the last 10 (meaning the reservoirs for regional irrigation all filled by start of dry season).

Not growing a whole lot of garden this year, some early season greens and peas and strawberries, long done. Also thornless blackberries which looked good but then the intense month-long heat 'wave' (more like tsunami, just kept coming and coming) fried most before they were ready to eat. Gets too hot here in summer for delicate temperate crops (e.g. most lettuces and the like).

Watering is automated drip type system, and as soon as a section is done producing (e.g. greens bolt, peas brown out) it gets turned off.
In terms of conservation, the prior drip system here 5-6 years back or more was a typical ornamental landscaper install, drip tape or tubing all over the place watering lots of area with nothing planted in it.
I re-did the system to cover just where essential and cut the usage by about 2/3. A few ornamentals are probably dying because of that, which to me means they don't belong in this climate.

In another location nearby I have a couple mature plum trees (two types), a mature apple and two young (4-5 years) apples (each a different type), plus two kinds of grapes. These are all on timed irrigation using a simple soaker hose ring at dripline (for fruit trees) or around root base (for grapes), they get a fairly deep soak early evening but only every 4 days. Changed it to 3 days back when the heat wave just kept coming, as they were looking stressed and the plums especially are loaded with fruit that I don't want to shrivel or drop prematurely.

 
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I'm very skeptical about fog catchers. The project that is more advertised in internet is just a research project, they say nothing about profitability. This project is likely to have cheap financial founding or sponsors.



Skepticism can be healthy sometimes, but it can stifle conversation at other times.
I have not seen evidence of snake oil salesmen piling on to the fog net bandwagon, but let me know if you hear of any.

Any plant that thrives in a place with frequent fog and little rain is probably a good fog catcher.
So, why to use huge and ugly plastic nets that pollute and must be maintained when we already have plants that do this for free?


There is no evidence that the modern version of a fog catcher pollutes nor needs maintenance, in fact they have replaced vegetation built units that actually do need to be maintained.
Its very true that trees etc catch fog and usually bring it down the trunk to be stored in the forest floor.
But its easier for humans to obtain and use water from nets and thats why it is an old technology.
 
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I did an experiment a few years back.  We planted 150 fruit trees that were grown from seed and about two years old.  We divided them into three equal rows.

The dirt (I am not going to call it soil) is glacial tilth which is dust with rocks in it.  It is the best drained and the least fertile part of the property.

The trees were divided into three rows with 50 trees in each.  They were planted in the middle of may (three weeks after the last rain and over 4 months until the next rain) and that day the well ran dry so we did not water the trees in.  

The assumption was that three trees might survive per row and we would be happy.  But it was an exceptionally dry and hot year.  So we were sad they would all die.

However, two of the three rows we decided to try some air well techniques that were common in England before the second world war.  We took every rock and pebble from the surrounding landscape and placed it as a wall at the base of the trees.  The wall was about a foot high.  

The wall was sufficient to capture enough dew to keep the trees alive.  In those two rows, we lost two trees that summer and have since lost three more to drought.  That's a loss of five per cent over ... is it six years now?  I think maybe longer as the trees are fruiting now.

In the row that did not get the rocks, we lost 49 trees the first year, and 1 tree the second.  That's a loss of 100%.  

We've since experimented with piles of rocks to help capture dew at the base of other trees (something that was big in Ontario when I was a kid) and yes, it works in our conditions.  

One way to see that if it is working is to go outside at night.  Do it on a full moon if you are afraid of the dark.  But don't just observe during the day and don't just look at the surface.  Dig in the rocks at night and the morning and the evening and observe.  The trees are there 24 hours, 365 days of the year.  If we only look at them during the day, sometimes during the year, we are missing out on a lot of helpful information.
 
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North Central New Mexico. average of 9.5" per year.   I have a wide shallow arroyo with a specific arrangement of crops and channels. I seed based on monsoon patterns, not first and last frost dates. In the margins of the arroyo cropfields, jujubes, native currants and nitrogen fixing berries have become self sustaining. In irrigated areas, using the native clay soil, and amending only with larger sized material in cropfields can reduce the amount of water needed to saturate to 1' of depth to as little as 1/4 " of water (standard for area farms is 1" to soak to 1' of depth) This translates to about 6000 gallons versus 25,000 gallons per acre; this can only be done with drip, or similar low evaporation techniques. Ollas have proven unreliable for the amount of labor required.  

When establishing trees, mulch with a combination of large rocks, large branches and  big chunky compost. You want mulch that doesnt absorb much water, but shades the surfaces beneath very well.

smaller gardens get leftover metal screening/fine mesh material as shade cloth; if you tap the screens in the morning you get a significant amount of water.

Plant crops that throw a deep taproot, and do so quickly.

greywater!!! all of our shower and laundry water diverts to a buried tank and mixes with our rainwater catchment.
 
Jay Angler
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r ranson wrote:

We took every rock and pebble from the surrounding landscape and placed it as a wall at the base of the trees.  The wall was about a foot high.  

1. Was this all the way around or just the down slope or up slope side?
2. Have these piles been infiltrated with or covered over with grass/forbes, or stayed clear of plants over the ~5 years or you've helped them stay clear?
3. Have you noticed any difference with orientation - ie do the north ones seem to hold more dew than the south ones, high ones more than ground level, - things like that?

Can you tell, I've got trees to plant this fall! The last lot I tried in that area appear to have all succumbed to the poor conditions, but they didn't have specific rock piles around them, just lots of rock.... I wish this farm didn't grow rocks quite so well sometimes!
 
r ranson
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Jay Angler wrote:r ranson wrote:

We took every rock and pebble from the surrounding landscape and placed it as a wall at the base of the trees.  The wall was about a foot high.  

1. Was this all the way around or just the down slope or up slope side?
2. Have these piles been infiltrated with or covered over with grass/forbes, or stayed clear of plants over the ~5 years or you've helped them stay clear?
3. Have you noticed any difference with orientation - ie do the north ones seem to hold more dew than the south ones, high ones more than ground level, - things like that?

Can you tell, I've got trees to plant this fall! The last lot I tried in that area appear to have all succumbed to the poor conditions, but they didn't have specific rock piles around them, just lots of rock.... I wish this farm didn't grow rocks quite so well sometimes!



We tarriced (why can't I spell that word?  Make slope into level steps) so the trees were on the level.  The rock wall is beside/around the trees.  We didn't do anything fancy.  

Yes, they have been covered with grass.  They don't work as well with the grass so we try to clear them twice a year.  But mostly the trees are strong enough now they don't need the rocks except on years like this year.

No difference in orientation with the wall or the rock piles.  The difference is more based on the microclimates - but you can feel the different dew in the air if you walk the land just before sunrise.
 
r ranson
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A lot of these old technologies like air wells is about just doing it.  

Today, we have a tendency to overthink things to try to get the "best" or "right" and avoid the "wrong".  This holds us back more than anything.

Every location is unique.  Every situation, tree, rock, all of it is unique.  By experimenting - aka, just do the thing - we can find out what works and what doesn't for the specific situation.

Just remember if it doesn't work one place, it doesn't mean it is 'wrong' or won't work somewhere else.
 
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Airwells - big piles of rocks at the base of trees --

Does this mean under the dripline at the outmost
edge of the direct shade or closer to the truck?
 
r ranson
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Kw Velasco wrote:Airwells - big piles of rocks at the base of trees --

Does this mean under the dripline at the outmost
edge of the direct shade or closer to the truck?



Traditionally I see them near the trunk.

It might work differently for you, but remember our ancestors didn't have a lot of free time.  Scything/mowing grass around one obstacle takes less time than around two and they weren't fussy about how they piled the rocks, just toss them at the tree to get them away from where we are working.  Driplines change over the years, so are our ancestors likely to move the rock pile?  

It's very much a matter of just doing it and trying things to find out what works for the location.  The more we overthink this, the less energy we have to do it.  
 
John Suavecito
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I like the idea of airwells, and I think it sounds like it works quite well in some circumstances.

I am concerned about harboring small animals like voles, who will eat around the cambium layer of the tree until it dies.

For this reason, many orchardists such as myself have warned against even mulching anything right next to the tree trunk.  

The dripline of the tree doesn't really change much if you aim for the dripline of the mature tree. It's also where the most active roots are growing, so it would
get water into the tree more quickly.  

A pile of rocks is habitat for many small creatures, and I would hate to harbor something that eats and kills my tree.

There may be another way of solving this problem. I just haven't seen it yet.

John S
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A  pile of rocks might harbor something that kills trees, but in a healthy ecosystem this will also attract animals that eats tree killers. Healthy ecosystems tend to have a moderation of drought and flood, heat and cold, and a pile of rocks can do these things if placed well. It can also harbor rattle snakes so be alert, but I use rock piles for thermal mass, condensation, fence posts and terrace walls.

I am in an spot that got 120”’of rain last year, but none since mid June (as of September 2nd). We store water in two 3000gal tanks about 45’ above the house, and we have a 25000 gal pond. We are also trying to store as much as we can in soil with deep mulch, hugel beds, and trees. We can pump from a spring to refill the tanks, as much as 1000gal/day, as well as watering trees with pond water. This has kept my 250 irrigated and planted out tree seedlings mostly alive (80% survival in year 1) , along with about 2000sq ft of hugels and raised beds for annuals and a few beds used as perrenial nurseries with another 175 trees to plant out this fall. .The key for us is storing the abundant winter rainfall in every way possible for at least 4months of dry warm weather in the summer. This is why nature grew massive coniferous forests here, with deciduous trees in the understory along streams and other edges that were still incredibly large by most places’ standards.

Another thing I will note, is that this regional drought that seems to only be getting  more record breaking and more perennial is largely the result of deforestation of the American West, especially coasts and ridge tops. The 98% now cut large old growth redwoods alone put out 10billion gallons per day in the summer through evapotranspiration. Everything down wind was humidified and cooled by this. Redwoods we’re just a fraction of what was cut and will not be replaced for at least 300yrs in any meaningful way. All summer rainfall and humidity 150mi inland of the coast has been through a tree (Mollison, 1988). It is no wonder why we are seeing record droughts throughout the west, and as much as climate change is the cause, the cause of climate change in my opinion is as much a result of the destruction of life and the functions life serves in regulating the planet as it is the burning it’s remants as wood or fossil fuels.
 
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I'm based abroad in a region with very long and severe droughts (6 to 8 months a year). Saving water is a way of life to us. We save every drop of water we can, but since most of our water (<90%) is for irrigation, the greatest savings are achieved by the right soil management. We have heavy clay soil that dries out rapid. Over the years, I have improved the soil by mulching and by adding compost and manure. The result is that the soil keeps the humidity for much longer. During the dry season, all growing areas get a thick layer of mulch. Sometimes, when the soil gets compacted, it's necessary to loosen it, otherwise it dries out rapidly.
 
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I have found that some pots don't seep at all.  The water just sits.  



Hey Lori, I know of one possibility for those pots (as well as the terra cotta pots used for succulents for Jay that don't lose so much water): fake terra cotta.

A few years back I was having the same issue with some DIY terra cotta pot ollas not working, and came across an article talking about pots that had a kind of thin shell of...I believe it was cement...and terra cotta surrounding it. I have been hunting for the article again to try and remember all it said, but failing on that so far. I can only assume this inner barrier is to help make them lose less water when used as a regular pot (if it's done intentionally and not some odd flaw in terracotta sometimes - again, can't find the article and can't recall how technical it was, you know?

These are sold as regular terra cotta pots. I have talked with stores, confirming that their pots were true, unadulterated terra cotta, had the pots not work, and then had more than one break (thank you, small children and your destructive ways) and you can literally see this dark gray inner core inside the terra cotta (so...cement, or something else going on, I"m guessing.).

 
shauna carr
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I'm right in the middle of the SW drought, down in AZ where almost the entire state has been in the two highest drought categories - extreme and then exceptional drought (there's also small sections that are 'abnormally dry,' 'moderate drought,' or 'severe drought.'  - no where is out of 'drought' status). For the first time ever last month, officials declared an official water shortage for the Lake Mead reservoir, which provides water for a LOT of the southwest. This declaration triggers supply cuts. In the first cut, going into effect next month, Arizona will lose 18% of its annual apportionment and Nevada will lose 7%. And even Mexico will lose 5% or so.

So we're low on water, and using non-water-harvested water is only going to get worse, and more expensive, soon.

On the positive front, though, the lower half of the state had the wettest monsoon in decades and that's lowered most of the drought status by a couple levels, so that's awesome.

On the negative front, I have been saving up for water harvesting tanks and haven't gotten them yet, so the wailing when I saw all that water not go into a tank was rather loud. ^_^

I have about 1/2 an acre. No wells (not allowed to dig any new wells in my area any longer). Don't have water cisterns yet, but trying to save up to get some. Don't have gray water because the home I bought has a terrible set up and placement for trying to save graywater, so I'm trying to figure that out, still. And I've got some physical disability, so a lot of physical labor is hard for me, so I try to do things that require less maintenance, if I can.

So to answer the questions...

1. What do you think you and your family are doing well with water conservation right now? Got any hard-core, black-belt water saving tips? Greywater on the cheap ideas? Drought-tolerant crops?



My family is...doing well and not doing well with water conservation. Regular daily life, we use too much water. Working on it, but...yeah, I am just failing there, sigh.

Outdoors, though, I'm doing better.

Here's what seems to work best to conserve water here:
1. Growing native or drought hardy perennials mostly for food, if possible - they use less water. I have mesquite trees, palo verde, some native mulberries (tiny berries), desert hackberry, Turk's redcap, Mearn's sumac (berries), Mexcian elderberry, AZ passion fruit, Mexican yellowshow, coyote melon (can only eat the seeds), banana yucca, skunk sumac (edible berries), cholla (edible fruit buds), prickly pear cactus, other cactus, a couple legume vines from the area, panic grass (trying for this, anyway - I have a hard time with it, still - edible seeds). I have to have a few micro-climates for a couple of these, but at the moment, I water the passion fruit a few times a year when it's too hot, same with the redcap, elderberries, legume vines, and mulberries, but everything else gets no extra water from me at all.

I DO have some non-desert trees, some of which provide fruit, that require water, but they are to help me with certain health conditions, and not good for conserving water, and I would never grow them otherwise so I'll leave 'em out.

2. Using drought adapted seeds and native/desert adapted plants for veggie gardens. Which means MANY traditional veggies are just a no-go. They use too much water, or their growing season is too long (so uses too much water), or they can't take the heat here.

I get some corn, tomato, beans, sunflowers, chiles, and melons/squash from some local sources that are heirloom and desert adapted. Aermenian cucumbers, but not regular ones. I have some greens from heat adapted varieties, like Molokhia (Egyptian spinach), golden purslane, and chichiquelite (edible berries and leaves, but berries have to be ripe, and leaves cooked, or will make one sick). I can manage malabar spinach, these small onions called I'itoi's onion (small, local dividing onions). I allow native amaranth and london rocket to reseed and try to eat that (but for anyone who wishes to try this...fair warning, london rocket is often a no-go. It gets too bitter for me to tolerate at a little above 70 F, and our climate has been heating up to the point that the leaves aren't big enough to eat before it gets to bitter to eat, anyway.  So I gather the seeds.

I have tried in the past to grow a lot of 'regular' garden veggies and...it just bites the dust unless I water it a LOT.  For years, I kept asking gardening advice from gardeners who were known to be 'good' gardeners and it was always one of three things: they only grew desert friendly crops, they used so much water it made me cringe, or they grew everything in pots where they didn't have to water everything as much.  

On a local positive note for gardening and water conservation, there is a lot of local effort to support it. For example, the county libraries in the two largest cities in AZ now have seed libraries.  They have information on how to grow the seeds and collect seeds after the plant has grown, and let people use the library's seeds and then, if the seeds were successful, people give some seeds BACK to the library (and thus slowly increase a growing pool of desert adapted seeds) or they buy and then give a new seed packet of heirloom seeds to try and help out that way. It's been very popular and pretty neat to see the efforts being gone through.

3. Another thing I've finally done is accept my growing season here. I cannot express enough how much water can be conserved with this, in an areas like mine.

Plants grow here in the desert MOST during the middle of the summer, because that's when the rains come. There is a little growth in the late winter, VERY early spring, for a very short period, IF there was a small winter monsoon. But spring growth? That doesn't happen here almost at all - it's too hot, too quickly, and to keep plants alive during this period is very water intensive.

So now I plant only in the summer monsoon, or something with a short growing season (like leaves) in mid-late winter (it doesn't freeze much here, so you can pull it off). Some folks here plant 'cold weather crops' in the late fall, but the fall and winter has been getting hotter ( had my tomato plant, outside with no shelter, bloom in mid-december a few years back, which is insane, even for here), and it is STILL a fair amount of water for these types of plants.

Another reason for accepting the seasons and following them is that the temp AND the humidity levels are very dependent on them. In the summer, the humidity goes up, so less water is used. In the hotter parts of the year WITHOUT rain? Humidity can literally drop to single digits for some of the day, which obviously means that plants need a LOT of water to stay healthy and dry to little husks. And the temps here are quite hith, which again, means a lot of water to compensate for that. We usually have 5 months, sometimes 6-7 on a couple bad months recently, where the average daily high for the month is in the 90's-100's.

I KNOW people find ways to use less water, but, well, growing a traditional veggie garden here, with the low humidity and high temp? It costs water. It costs water we do not HAVE, at this point, you know? And I keep hearing a lot of folks in the SW talk about how to 'use less water' to grow their food but it's like there's this disconnect about it, many times. It's like watching someone buy a new car when they are bankrupt, and they are talking about what a great deal this new car is. And you're like, 'yeah, it's a great deal, but you don't have any money, period, so it's not a great deal for YOU.'

...I say this as someone who is still wasting water, so...yeah, not so great following my own advice, just aware of my failures, eekl.



What do you wish you could do better? Do you have any specific "I wish I would have done XYZ beforehand so I'd cope better now." Let others here get some ideas for putting our conservation systems in place now.


I wish I had water cisterns already, but cost-wise, I can't see that I could have done it.

Wish I had more rock piles - I HAVE a lot of rocks from any digging I do, but haven't set piles up as efficiently as I like. Couldn't do it as well for a long while because I have small kids and the local rattlesnakes and scorpions and centipedes love rock piles, so I had to wait until no one is going to get bitten or stung because of the rock piles.

Wish I had dug things up more, initially, so I had better soil. I AM happy that I let mulch lay where it falls - this has helped the soil a lot and it's been going on for about 10 years or so. But I have insanely hard dirt, caliche in some areas, and the thing is, while the soil might improve, it is SO SLOW in this type of soil that I"m gonna be nearly dead, or actually dead, before it gets more than an inch of nice soil. What has to be done is to literally break up the caliche, and add in other dirt and such, and THEN let the mulch and debris fall. And I am going to have to back and do that, in a lot of areas, which is a bit frustrating.

Wish I learned more about mulch and how it works in my area, so I could have applied it better early on. in areas like this, with so little rain and such low humidity and high heat, following a plan of 'lots of mulch everywhere' is absolutely NOT the way to go. Plant matter has a tendency to desiccate rather than rot and breakdown into nice soil components, here, in any area that isn't getting irrigated or getting more water than the surrounding area. Here, bugs like termites are some of the biggest ways to have plant matter break down. I always think of this fallen log up on a nearby mountain. It fell over and maybe 12 years later, you could see some termite damage, but the log was still there, nothing rotting, no fungus, just...a big log slowly desiccating and being eaten by insects.

This means that a lot of mulch in any area that is not irrigated isn't a great idea. In fact, it can end up with the organic mulch absorbing water and preventing it from getting to the ground (during small rain events) and then just evaporating back into the air and making it WORSE for the plants underneath it. So you have to be more strategic in how much mulch you use and where you put it. Strategic stones can help with things like this, keeping water in the ground without absorbing any of it.

But at least I don't regret not putting in fog catchers, LOL. Fog catchers seem like they wouldn't do great here, most of the year, because the humidity is so low I'm not even seeing dew in the morning, a lot of the time.



Have you measured how much water you're consuming per day? Have you measured how much of that is being used for greywater?



I have, but it was a while back and haven't done it in a while. really need to do better about this!
 
John Suavecito
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Ben Zumeta said, "A  pile of rocks might harbor something that kills trees, but in a healthy ecosystem this will also attract animals that eats tree killers. Healthy ecosystems tend to have a moderation of drought and flood, heat and cold, and a pile of rocks can do these things if placed well. It can also harbor rattle snakes so be alert, but I use rock piles for thermal mass, condensation, fence posts and terrace walls. "

Large rocks are habitat for voles and other tree killing creatures exactly because they are safe from predators, like say, foxes or owls. They can't push away large rocks so the voles stay inside, safe and comfy.  So they are safe to kill your trees all winter long while the foxes are helpless to stop them, as are you.   One solution may be to use small rocks that a fox could tear away.  It would seem to me that with small rocks or large gravel, even a small dog, like a terrier, would love to find them and scare them away or eat them.  Then you are really using the balance of nature, or the ecology.  

John S
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John C Daley
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I had to look up what a 'vole' is, since we dont have them in Australia.
Seems they can cause much trouble with trees etc, but

However, like other burrowing rodents, they also play beneficial roles, including dispersing nutrients throughout the upper soil layers.[1]


However I would think if rocks are set against trees, a vole would not be able to ringbark it because of the presence of the rocks anyway.
Its possible rocks voles are ok next to trees.
 
John Suavecito
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With big rocks, they could easily eat the tree. They are very small and can slip into tiny spaces.  I guess this is another reason why smaller rocks would be better. They could annoy the vole enough that it would no longer seem to be very easy to eat the cambium layer.  Maybe even difficult or impossible for them.
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