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Irrigating with melting ice.

 
                                    
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Thinking about strategies for high desert land with only seasonal water I had the idea to fill buckets with water when the seasonal creeks are flowing and let them freeze solid in the dead of winter.

Then pile up the chunks of ice and cover them with insulative material like straw or leaves.  Then set up the melt water to fill into a gravity-fed drip irrigation system.

Seems to me that if one got the mass of ice and insulation right, the melt-off could match up with irrigation needs for a small plot.  Higher temps that make plants and soil require more water also supply more melt-off.

I've seen snow trapped under avalanche debris last for multiple years in hot valleys, so I wonder if one could simulate this but for irrigation.  Might be a good way to put a seasonal creek / spring that flows in the winter and spring seasons to work throughout the summer.  Maybe combining with hugelkultur to maximize the benefit.

Has anybody heard of someone trying this before?  I'm wondering if there are any proven strategies out there?  It's a bit labor intensive, but for a really small bit of land it seems promising to me.

Any thoughts?
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I had the same thought when I saw the accumulated snow load on the side of a house in a East Cascades house.  If you could capture that and store it you'd get both cooling and irrigation... no suggestions here.
 
Emerson White
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Location: Alaska
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You've got to store up a lot of ice and cover it very well to have it last very long, or be at very high altitude. I suspect that burying that straw and using it like a big straw sponge would go further than any ice you could store conveniently. Also be sure that you have water rights. If you are in the US then high desert means  that you are in the west, where storing surface water with out water rights is illegal.
 
                                    
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Emerson White wrote:
Also be sure that you have water rights. If you are in the US then high desert means  that you are in the west, where storing surface water with out water rights is illegal.


I'm aware of this.  But something in the neighborhood of 500 gallons, even from the smallest of streams is absolutely negligible in terms of overall throughput.

Prosecuting this is like prosecuting a grandma for accidentally carrying her mini scissors onto an airplane for counted-cross stitch.

...Our laws are so absurd these days everything is illegal, especially if you don't have the resources to prove otherwise...   It's just a matter of what you feel comfortable trying to get away with.  Everything in life is a risk.



Emerson White wrote:I suspect that burying that straw and using it like a big straw sponge would go further than any ice you could store conveniently.


In sandy soil under cover of juniper and ponderosa, I'm not sure this would be the case.   Soil temperatures are cryic (about as cold as you get without permafrost), so doing this in a covered trench could aid substantially in moderating the melting power of high summer (daytime) temps.  The idea is to drip feed a highly absorbent under-garden substrate (such as the rotting wood of hugelbeets), with meltwater from far enough away to not reduce soil temperature, the goal being to keep a consistent moisture level through those 60 hot days of July and August (not risking drying out the hugelbeets). 

I think that if I did like you said and saturated the straw or whatever directly and let that mass freeze over the winter it would:

A) reduce the insulative value of the straw and cause faster melt as well as reduce how much of the water one could extract from it.  Wet straw doesn't drip feed, it just evaporates.

and/or

B) If I was planting directly on that soil covered saturated "sponge" it would just keep a giant cold block of ice under my soil killing roots of perennials and shortening my already highly marginal growing season.


Anyway...

It could also be done in a root cellar like structure which would make a natural refrigerator for food storage.

I know that this has been done historically, in my home town (I don't live there anymore) in Illinois back in the day people used to cut chunks of ice from the river and store them for summer use in a wide variety of applications.  But with 45 inches of rainfall annually they had no need for saving the melt-water for their gardens.



...what I'm thinking of goes like this.

1. Dig trench.  line with plastic.  Get 20 buckets
2. After the autumn rains / snows when the water flows fill two five gallon buckets a day.   Put in trench to freeze.
3.  Dump out frozen buckets for reuse.
4.  After 100 days you have 1000gallons of ice in a pile.
5.  Cover with leaves or straw, something insulative.
6. channel the melting water from the ice into drip hose running downhill into hugelbeets.   ...rate of meltoff roughly matches rate of water needed by the beds.

The trick is just in matching the mass of ice to the size of the bed and rate of melt.  If you got it right you could have a zero watering perennial solution.

I think it's probably too complicated to be practical, but I was still curious if anyone had tried it as a niche solution...  a way to water in the high desert if you take lots of roadtrips during the summer or live far from the land.
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