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Water harvesting 15 kms west of the Cairo Nile  RSS feed

 
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My one acre land is 70m above sea level, on the desert edges before the drop into the Nile valley. We rely on groundwater which is highly saline, as is the soil. The most common weed on my land is salt cedar.

The few surrounding lots who have moved in all rely heavily on water filtration systems for irrigation, most have their own wells, and plant mostly grass and ornamentals, so I worry about the water levels over time as the quality is already bad and I'm considering building a house here.

I wanted to begin with a swale system to harvest rainwater but the gardeners and neighbors all insist it doesn't rain here. My question is: am I supposed to design for a rain that might never come? My theoretical permaculture background says yes, but those who have been in the area long before me insist that this would be a huge waste of energy. I was told the most rain seen here in the last 5 years was a 20-minute shower once. My land is 60m2, so I estimated that two swales across would store up to 75,000 liters each if they did happen to fill, otherwise I don't know how else to flush the salt out of my land without a filtration system such as my neighbors'.

How can I heal my land and create a home for myself here in a sustainable, ethical way?
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Posts: 148
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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Tough questions Sherifa, but it's good to see you're up to the challenge!

You're on the right track by observing what grows naturally. My question would be: how did the salt cedar sprout if it never rains? Every tree starts somehow. ..

And my advice is: don't come to a decision too quickly. You sound like you're new to you're area? Keep observing for a year or so. Make a list of EVERYTHING that grows there naturally. How does it grow? These are your pieces.

Next, fit those pieces into a strategy: is there a market for salt cedar products? Etc. If it truly never rains, then don't dig swales. If it ever does rain, I would focus on reservoirs for keeping the runoff for irrigation.

Good luck!
 
Posts: 589
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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dog homestead
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Its possible to capture water from the air, particularly when there are cool nights.
It is often done in the desert and dry areas.
Have a good look around, but even if you use swales for rain when it comes, you will need somewhere to store water now.
Reserviors will not be practical in your environment, but swales will at least capture water for replenishment of the ground water.
Get back if you cannot find anything.
 
Sherifa El Alfy
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Hi Nathanael and John,

Thank your for your answers! It's encouraging to hear some to questions I've been asking myself for over a year now. I've been observing the land for a couple of years but will remain "new" to it as long as I don't have a place to stay there and spend time. This week was the first time I catch a sunset there for instance.

The salt cedar sprouts near the olive trees on an old drip irrigation system, so it will compete with anything I try to grow here. The drippers are getting a little blocked and the lab told me this could be due to the high manganese levels. I'm putting together a list of native/salt tolerant/drought tolerant species to form the layers of my permaculture design. I also have about 6 palm trees and lot a of bougainvillea which I think all just sprouted. The land was bordered with ficus nitida. I was surprised to see sapodilla fruiting here (not on my acre, but two of my neighbors!) I do sense that as much as this is an arid climate, there are also subtropical characteristics here.

I'm interested in making this more of a homestead than a commercial plot, but I have do have access to the two acres right above mine for expansion.

What's the minimum amount of rainfall that would justify installing a reservoir? Or would this just be in the case that I move in and store my water in one anyway?

In terms of capturing water from the air, I guess I do need to do my research and see how much water is out there.

John, when you say a place to store water now, but not a reservoir, do you have anything in mind other than swales?

My neighbors do things very differently here. To put in some large trees, blocks of 2 x 2 m of saline soil were removed and replaced with cleaner sand and mix and then irrigated with filtered water. The amount of energy spent on that makes me feel like I'm being too frugal counting energy expenditure on my swales

 
Nathanael Szobody
Posts: 148
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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Really, if it never rains--or hasn't rained in the two years you have been observing--I wouldn't put in sales. Just do your planting on contour. The only reason Geoff Lawton did swales in his desert project is because he floods them.

If you already have infrastructure in place to do some level of drip irrigation on your olive trees,  then I would design that existing capacity for maximum efficiency: ground covers,  mulch (cedar?), etc.

So you're saying the current irrigation is the salty ground water or is that filtered?
 
Sherifa El Alfy
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Saline groundwater in drip system, only neighbors who've moved in have filters and some have dug their own wells.

Is it sustainable for Geoff to have flood his swales in those conditions?
 
Nathanael Szobody
Posts: 148
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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Sherifa El Alfy wrote:Saline groundwater in drip system, only neighbors who've moved in have filters and some have dug their own wells.

Is it sustainable for Geoff to have flood his swales in those conditions?



I had the same question. In his video that I watched awhile back he said he was using agricultural runoff. So, sustainable in the sense that he was recycling.

So apparently olives grow well in saline groundwater? That's a good start. Perhaps if you compiled a list of other plants that can grow in that water, then you have something for mulch production to support olive production.

I would strongly recommend raising pigeons. I live further South of you in Africa, but our pigeon breed is essentially the same as in Egypt. The pigeons will start fertilizing your land as well as eating unwanted seeds (maybe even saltcedar seeds!). All they need is a good shelter with nesting boxes and water.
 
Posts: 535
Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
5
forest garden greening the desert trees
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Hi Sherifa, thats a very green plot in a very dry place so congratulations for being in such a good situation already. Could you work out/measure/guess how much water an olive tree gets per week from the drip system and try giving it that same amount in one go, once per week? Would be an interesting trial.

We get between 100mm and 400mm rain per year which is arid but nowhere near as dry as you. My most drought tolerant trees are:
Yucca
Gliricidia sepium
Leucaena leucocephala
Pomegranite
Fig
Mulberry
Loquat
Persimmon
In roughly that order.

What kind of palms do you have? I have found all except the native canarian palms to be quite thirsty.
 
John C Daley
Posts: 589
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Tanks are the only thing that will work.
Historically 'cisterns' were used, they are underground tanks built to take the soil loads.

look at these 'air wells' air wells

Solar water collector solar collector
 
gardener
Posts: 1886
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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I am curious how high the water table is.  Those bushes are the "salt cedar", growing with their roots in the saline water below?

You are probably aware of Geoff Lawton's "greening the desert" project, seems like someone referred to it above, talking about his use of waste agricultural water.  If you by chance are  not aware of it, I recommend you look at it.  Sorry I can't give you a link.

I agree with the idea of waiting and watching, becoming familiar with your place before you begin your work.

One permaculture adage is that the best place to store water is in the soil...  

If you do decide to make swales, I think you would want to fill them with wood (brush) chips.  Those plants are green, and they are getting moisture from somewhere...  maybe that saline ground water.

What occurs to me is to try to increase carbon.  If not already familiar, seek out Elaine Ingham's work.  Soil food web, life in the soil. You are in extreme conditions to be sure, those salts in the water and soil can be somewhat mitigated by the soil microbiome community.   Get more carbon into the soil.

Maybe I am just making noise here, but if you could even get newspaper and raise worms,they would transform it into more useful compounds.

To get some cleaner water by evaporating (solar still???) the water out of the salts.  Don't know yet what you would do with the salts you accumulate, but they are minerals of some kind, possibly some use for them.

I also have an idea that rather than try to rehab the whole plot at once, you might be better off to start small... under just one of those bushes, apply the water you get from the solar still and the worm compost, and mulch over it with wood chips or newspaper of some kind.

Think of it as apilot plot.  If you can get some more life, a richer more diverse community in just one spot, it may spread as it creates its own conditions.

If you only apply that fresh water to the one location, and prevent evaporation from that space, then the moisture will flow out from there, carrying some of the salt with it.  If you create conditions at the perimeter around your test plot that discourage evaporation then the cleaner water will flow further out.  But, I don't think plastic would be a good way to prevent evaporation... something that lets the ground beneath breathe....

so, maybe I am just dreaming, but these are my first thoughts on hearing of your project.  good luck, and get ready to be very very patient.  It's an ambitious undertaking, no overnight fix for this.
 
Posts: 247
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
15
forest garden greening the desert hunting solar trees
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Have you read about or watched Neal Spackman? If he can make it work in Saudi Arabia, just south of Mecca, it is doable.
If you are living on site or are planning to build, consider installing a grey water system. Also, mulch heavily with whatever vegetable matter is around on areas you are planning to plant.


https://www.youtube.com/user/albaydha

https://www.permaculturevoices.com/100-degrees-and-3-inches-of-rain-greening-saudi-arabia-with-neal-spackman-pvp078/

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtNv2RiRbtai_sTl1w1H-4n5_voCUt7oB

He's on twitter, instagram and facebook.

JD

 
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Sherifa El Alfy wrote:My one acre land is 70m above sea level, on the desert edges before the drop into the Nile valley. We rely on groundwater which is highly saline, as is the soil. The most common weed on my land is salt cedar.

The few surrounding lots who have moved in all rely heavily on water filtration systems for irrigation, most have their own wells, and plant mostly grass and ornamentals, so I worry about the water levels over time as the quality is already bad and I'm considering building a house here.

I wanted to begin with a swale system to harvest rainwater but the gardeners and neighbors all insist it doesn't rain here. My question is: am I supposed to design for a rain that might never come? My theoretical permaculture background says yes, but those who have been in the area long before me insist that this would be a huge waste of energy. I was told the most rain seen here in the last 5 years was a 20-minute shower once. My land is 60m2, so I estimated that two swales across would store up to 75,000 liters each if they did happen to fill, otherwise I don't know how else to flush the salt out of my land without a filtration system such as my neighbors'.

How can I heal my land and create a home for myself here in a sustainable, ethical way?



Can maybe use the sun to make fresh water? there are much possibillities, maybe search google, we have all to invent for our new world, a world where peace, understanding, and technology work for us protecting our mother earth.

Our university was busy with it. And your country is also a university country.

Pores

Memstill produces pure water from dirty seawater via distillation (evaporation and condensation) in combination with membrane separation. This combination is also called membrane distillation.

Membranes are plastic filters with microscopic pores. In the Memstill installation they have a diameter of about 0.1 micrometer. Actually, such a membrane is more hole than material: about 20% is plastic, the rest is open pore. For water vapor molecules it offers more than enough space to pass. Salt can not evaporate and the liquid can not flow through the pore due to the hydrophobic character of the membrane and therefore remains behind.

The innovative aspect of the Memstill process is the way in which this principle of membrane distillation is elaborated. Due to internal heat recirculation, only a small amount of heat is sufficient to keep the process 'running'. This means that relatively 'low-grade' residual heat can be used from all kinds of industrial processes. Moreover, the installation is very compact
 
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I live in the high desert in California.  We have been in a serious drought for five years.  It has rained once or twice in that time.  Mulching did not work for me as there was no moisture to speak of, that would cause the mulch to decompose enough to hold moisture.  I ended up sinking 55 gallon food grade barrels and 5 gallon buckets in the sand up to the rims and am employing the Kratky method to grow everything.  I espaliered all the trees and they are growing fine this way also.  I did change the Kratky method in one way.  The roots are grown in filtered water and I fertilize by foliar.  I have saved a huge amount in cost of water.  When I do change out the water once or twice a season, it gets recycled to the established in-ground trees.

We did the same thing with out shower system. Sunk a 100 gallon tub under the shower, put a grate over it to stand on, when the tub is filled we use a sump pump to pump the water out to the in-ground trees. Our shower is in the greenhouse, it stays warm enough year around here to be quite comfortable to shower in.

With the Kratky I have found I can grow anything here, the roots stay cool which causes less stress to the plants.  You can dwarf or espalier all trees and they will bear quite heavily when established. We do have a lot of shade structures up and that helps considerably with keeping everything healthy.  Growing in the buckets and barrels, you can really pack a lot of things into a small area.
 
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I may be talking out my butt here, as I have very little personal experience with semi-arid regions outside of Southern California.  But the fact that those bushes can grow at all implies that they have access to water.  Do they have huge tap roots?  If not, then I would suspect that you are in an area that experiences night dew, which would make a dew collector a good investment.  The best way to tell is to dig up one of those naturally surviving bushes and examine the root structure.  If the root structure is broad and near the surface, this implies a regular dew cycle.  Such adapted plants also tend to have "fur" on their stems and branches; filament-like root structures that are capable of capturing dew that forms on the surface of the plant itself.

If, however, the root structure looks like a long tap-root that runs pretty much straight down, then they are groundwater accumulators.  If this is true, you might want to consider a technique of vapor capture that I learned for emergencies while in the military; but you might be able to adapt it to collect a useful amount of water.  The trick is that all plants will  'exhale' water vapor out of their leaves during photosynthesis, which can be condensed.  I learned to do this by taking a plastic bag and tying it around a green set of branches.  Let it have the sun for about 20 30 minutes, then shade that bag without removing it from the branch.  A little bit of condensation will form inside the bag under shade.  I don't know how this might be used as a regular method, because if you leave the bag on too long that branch will run out of CO2 inside the bag and simply stop; and if you still leave the bag on that portion of the plant will die.
 
John C Daley
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Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Hydroponic systems can be complex. ... The Kratky Method is a way of hydroponically growing your plants in a container without needing electricity, air stones, pumps, or anything else. This means that the Kratky Method is a passive hydroponics system.
 
Posts: 101
Location: belgium
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books fungi trees
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Seriously Sherifa , 60 m²? That's my vegetable garden. What is your goal for this site?!!?
But a side from this:
#grey water
#mulching
#chop and drop using "un"wanted plants. Humus!
#terras-forming your land, just in case it would rain
#inform at your met-office and ask for data on rain, wind and temperatures and everything else
#drip irrigation is indeed the best for arid regions, reducing water spills
#what does botany says? Wild berries, nitrogen fixers, wild greens
#water harvesting from air is possible.
#animal/humane manure is a surplus.
#shade is needed in hot regions so try to grow edible-productive shading trees, tolerating droughts them selves.
#Invest in revers-osmosis filters if you have the financial reserve.

Sucses
 
pollinator
Posts: 171
Location: istanbul - turkey
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Sherifa,
Considering your land is only 60 square meters (I believe it is a typo, 600?) and you are in middle east ( Selam :D ); I am going to go against most of the ideas given above. I am well aware that there are permaculture techniques working (way better than expected) in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon but this middle east we are talking about! It is the place where many of those techniques were and are being invented and there is a major reason why they are so diverse. For example just consider it is the birth place of first seed balls - around Nile (refer to Fukioka) to first flood irrigation methods in Iraq to various other irrigation methods perfected in Syria to all kinds of husbandry practices in the whole region. Just recently modern drip irrigation is developed in Isreal in 1950's and 60's. I much as I know, a method to water veg's with saline water is being developed in Israel. It is diverse because problems are diverse. So if you implement Geoffs techniques that work in Lebanon in your land, I believe you are going to fail. Same for me, or someone in Iraq.
My thoughts are:
-Such a beautiful land you have. I guess it is a kind of suburban plot -kinda- roughly one house per 500 square meters?
-Your land is way too small for swales. Just to visualize; it is one quarter of a half-Olympic swimming pool. Even if it is 600 square meters, I wouldn't waste land on them. There are many other tecniques to harvest water.
-Drip irrigation is one method to consider. Salinity is going to remain as a problem though. For such high evaporation region and high salinity you will have salt cristals forming around drips. If you burry them, water will be wicked up and form a very salty top soil killing it.
-Since you are in Eypth, I believe you have access to cheap and unqualified labour (such as digging or carrying loads with wheelbarrow). It is a great resource actually. Use it! You don't own a house over there which makes it better for safety.
-General rule for high salinity is that you want to limit evaporation and use a deeper soil profile for cultivation.
-What I recommend for your situation is waffle- sunken beds. Make the guys dig rectangles or squares 3m to 3 or 4m's. Put the deeper soil around the perimeter. The beds will need to be dug approximately 60 cm deep from the inital level. You will some of it back. I have seen beds shallower than that and having problems for similar zones. Deeper beds might also work, but I would observe 60cm deep bed first before making any decision. Try to make the perimeter mounds as high as possible and beds not further away than 1,5 meters. Try to put stones and rocks over the side walls, so they will compress the mound and also helps as a heat damper. You can plant olives and palms (and other trees) in the corners. Palms are your ally, they shade the soil and their roots are just fantastic for holding soil. They produce a lot of biomass to use as mulch and such. Fill the bed with water couple of times before you start filling back with organic matter and soil. When you are filling the sunken bed, first layer needs to be wood and such (or any high carbon material) to hold as much as moisture. If you don't have acces to wood, any organic matter will do. Put soil back with as much as organic matter possible. The top layer should be whatever good soil you had. If it has high salinity, top of top soil might not be suitable for the job. Go a layer underneath. Now you can divert avaible water. As palms and trees grow bigger, you can connect sunken beds with each other by removing the side in between. Put the stones on the perimeters. The achilles heel of sunken beds is rain, too much rain. It doesn't rain you say :)
You can give it a try by getting one build first and observe.
Usually sunken beds are a lot smaller, put given your climate I believe bigger will be better. Also it will be easier to describe to a worker.
There is a wonderful tread about burried wood beds (or underground hugels). I have to admit it is for climates a lot softer than yours but go check it out to see how burriying organic matter affects conditions under drought. Also search for sunken beds, waffle sunken beds. You might see some promissing reports from folks in similar situations, no rain, high salinity, high evaporation. You will see practices from New Mexico, I think it is the similar-american-region for your climate/stiuation.
Ps: will be edited to add links and typos and stuff.
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Steve Farmer
Posts: 535
Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
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The land is described as an acre. 60m x 60m is just under an acre so im assuming its 60 m sq rather than 60 sq m.
 
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Location: Southeast Brazil
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If your land has dew at night, a cheap way to harvest water is to put stones around your plants. They will condense water at night.
I suggest you try that in a few plants as an experiment. Take pictures of those plants before you put the stones.  In a few weeks/months you can compare the results.
 
dirk maes
Posts: 101
Location: belgium
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Why not try salt tolerating plants?
 
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Ferro cement water tanks easily support soil load. Pigeons are a great idea. Air moisture can be harvested as dew and then stored in a tank if the conditions exist. Locating leaks underground is difficult. Best is above ground. Shade with whatever if necessary. check http://www.ferrocement.com

Perhaps you will become famous for a very rare olive oil. The stone idea is great.
 
gardener
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I'm assuming that the saline groundwater is not in short supply. There are many configurations that are very simple and inexpensive, for distilling that water and having it either go into a vessel or drip directly into the ground.

One advantage of direct drip, is that you can put the unit over the soil directly in front of trees or other plants that you want to water, and the soil will be cooler than it would be exposed to the sun. Long skinny units could be placed between rows of crops. This would eliminate weeds and evaporation between the rows.

You would regularly need to get rid of salt. That might be as simple as giving it to someone with livestock, or dumping it in the desert.

A few pictures gleaned from Google Images.
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Hey sherifa! It's a small world all round! Awsome that you've got land to develope..we're in the desert so rainwater isnt really a readily available resource..your best option would be to install a Gray water system..filtered as required for your area..and also to use the condensed water that air cons produce..you'd be surprised by how much water they can produce. You could set up a harvest system or direct drip lines..if you don't live there and don't produce grey or A/C water..would it be an option to source this from neighbour? Geoff Lawton did some nice work in Jordon.
Best amendment for sandy soil is compost..heaps and heaps of it..I mulch new vegetable beds with 7 inches of compost no tilling and it works great..I do as much hot composting as possible and for areas that I know I won't be able to amend immediately its basically chop and drop and mulch with any organic matter I can get my hands on..that helps with getting things going!
Korean natural farming for diy fertilizer and plant feed even with the mulching cos sandy soil is pretty shit! May still be too alkaline for plants to uptake nutrients so I like to folliar feed as well.
It may take a couple of years but you can deffinatlly get a nice  micro climate going for yourself over there once plants are established.
 
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