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need help to convert orchard on flat ground into a permiculture paradise

 
Jeannie Williams
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Hi folks,
I have a small organic u-pick orchard and farm in Central Ca. Where the drought is at it's worst. The problem is that we are on flat ground. I would like to sculpt my land to capture what little rain we get and make sure that every drop goes to good use. I do have a few things going in my favor though, my land is certified organic, full of life and very productive. We are on a no-till program, and I have amassed a mountain of wood chips to use to help re-vegetate the land wherever we excavate. Would it be possible (and beneficial) to create swales in established orchard by excavating some soil between the rows of trees? I need help.but I'm too broke to pay a professional to design it. Is there a non-profit organization to help small farms? Is there a book that deals with my situation, which is, an established orchard on flat ground in an area that doesn't get much rainfall and is prone to drought? Where can I go for help. I can't afford to take a permaculture course. Please help, I will greatly appreciate it.
 
Blake Wheeler
Posts: 166
Location: Kentucky 6b
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Have you checked the grade of the land? Flat land, to the eye, often isn't flat land when checked with a level.

My understanding of swales is that they're most effective on contour. Basically, you need elevation change to move the water to the swale in the first place. Without proper placement they may miss runoff, or not provide enough return to make the investment of time and money worth it.

If you already have loads of wood chips why not just heavily mulch the area? It will slow runoff and aid in holding water as well. It seems like the easier, less invasive way of solving the issue.
 
Rose Pinder
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Location: Otago, New Zealand
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Jeannie, do you think rainwater is running off your land? Or to somewhere where you don't need it? Or better question, what is happening to the rain currently?

How much rainfall do you get, and what are the longest times between decent rains?

Do you have a water take?

I agree with Blake, land is rarely completely flat. There are some resources in this thread on swaling on flat land http://permaculturenews.org/forums/forum/permaculture-forums/designing-building-making-and-powering-your-life/7739-flat-land

To find out the contours on your land you can survey it yourself using an A frame. Google 'A frame swales' and you will get many instructions. Or find a local permies or surveyor who can teach you, it's not that hard and you can build/find the gear necessary locally without buying expensive equipment.
 
Jeannie Williams
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It's quite flat. It was graded to be level as we use microjet sprinklers. Annual precipitation average is about 10 inches. But since the drought we have less than 2 inches. I think Death Valley got more rain than we did. What I have in mind is more to direct what water we do get to flow toward the trees. The orchard floor is flat the trees are 16 feet apart and 18 feet between rows. rainwater that falls in the center of the row gets wasted. I think that if the land were sloped toward the trees then the water that fell in the middle would flow toward the trees. But I dont know how much of an angle or how deep and close to the tree to go. I could do trial an error. But if someone out there already has the answer I'd rather not make a costly mistake. I don't have any runoff. The ground is good and it soaks in. I also need advise weather or not it is doable to try to harvest water from our 1/4 acre parking lot. It's level and covered in a couple inches of wood chips. I was thinking that if it were sloped toward drain pipes. I could catch some of that water and divert it into a cistern or reservoir. I've already set up to collect the easy water. (water from rain gutters are diverted into a french drain that feeds planter boxes.
 
Blake Wheeler
Posts: 166
Location: Kentucky 6b
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Well in that case you don't need to do any digging between the trees. Why not bring dirt in to raise the soil level between the rows? You'd essentially build a funnel of soil around each tree. As to how much elevation change would be ideal I can't say. Either way, any elevation change at all would move water to a degree. Obviously if the land is parched it will soak up most of the water before it funnels it anywhere. More soil in place also leads to a greater mass to hold the rain you do get.

Look at it from another angle though, and correct me if I'm wrong as my experience with orchards is nil. Wouldn't leaving the land as is promote a bigger root system in each individual tree? Basically the trees, currently, have to search out the water, versus having it diverted to them.....equals more extensive root system? You've also got an orchard of established, grown, producing trees. They should do fairly well left to their own anyway.
 
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