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avoiding irrigation  RSS feed

 
Posts: 596
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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RR I am aware this is off topic, but you mention you dislike irrigating. I may be able to help if you open another topic
 
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It's not so much that I dislike irrigating, it's just that irrigating is not sustainable where I live.  

On a normal year, between May first and the middle of October there is ZERO rainfall on the farm.  Zero, as in none.  For the entire growing season.  zilch.  

We live on an island, so there's no snowmelt to feed moisture into the soil.  Any moisture we do have needs to be captured into the soil during the winter or captured from the dew at night.  

We are on a well.  It's a very deep well, but even so, we need to be conscious of our water usage.  There have been several years lately, where the city water has been dangerously low.  I noticed that the small farms in my part of the world rely heavily on irrigation.  It won't be long until we have a summer where they put a complete stop on outdoor water use.  I like the idea that when that happens, we will still have a successful harvest.  Maybe our farm could be a source of teaching for local farmers to learn how to grow without excessive irrigation.  

so far we've been quite successful growing without irrigation.  We have almost half an acre in zero irrigation crops, not including the acre of fruit and nut trees which are also not irrigated.  I list some of the techniques in my blog.  We're also inspired by Joseph Lofthouse's writing on landrace crops and this has worked better than we expected.  

I may be able to help if you open another topic



Here we are.  I would love to hear your ideas for growing crops with zero irrigation and zero rainfall.
 
r ranson
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Here's a picture of kale (landrace, second generation) and soup beans.

It was taken this week.  Now this year is unusual, in that we did have some rain in early summer.  I think we totalled 6 mm rainfall in June which is HUGE!  Massive amounts of rain.  But it turned hot and dry a few weeks ago.  I saw a large brush fire yesterday in the marshland near my home.  

This picture shows some of the tricks we use.  

textured landscape - it's in a hollow so the sunrise about 3 hours after the rest of the property, and sunset about 2 hours earlier than the rest.

Moisture capture in the soil - we spent a lot of time adding to the soil and building up this.  We also keep the sheep uphill of this area so their manure can wash down into the soil in the winter and feed the microbes.

Plant breeding - the beans are several generations of saving seeds and growing in abusive conditions.  Nature did the selecting so now only beans that thrive in our conditions are growing.  The kale is part of the landrace experiment.  

Capture dew - in the morning these plants are dripping with dew which travels down the stem to the base of the plant.

shade the soil - to prevent moisture loss in the sun.

avoid mulch - mulch dries out too quickly in our climate and requires extra water. We've had success with mulch so long as it gets watered twice a week and deeply, but if we do that, it harbours plant-eating bugs, so it's a lot of effort and resources for minimal benefit.  Since the goal is to avoid all irrigation, I'm reducing our mulch experiments.
IMG_3180.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_3180.JPG]
 
John C Daley
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One thing you could look at is capturing more of the dew.
Rain forests are very good at that, air wells, netting and mesh hung to capture fog or due work very well and have been used for a long time near coasts.
I will get some references for you later.
In the Middle EAst there is a history of capturing water from the air and its worth looking at.
Some of the systems are very sophisticated and store the water in underground cisterns,
They even make ice in the desert.
Time to rush now, but I hope I have whet your appetite
 
r ranson
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airwells are a big part of what we do.  This has proven most useful with fruit trees.  48 trees out of 50 survive with a small airwell, and 1 out of 25 survived without.  Planted at the same time, in the same soil, three years ago.  The larger the airwell, the more the tree thrives.

Please do share the reference.  Airwells are loads of fun to learn about.

Netting hasn't made any difference in our experiments.

Encouraging plants to capture their own dew has been the easiest way so far.
 
John C Daley
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The nets I speak of have wide sections of 'rope', IE large surface area
Say about 8-10mm so moisture can settle on it and drain down to a gutter
 
John C Daley
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This is a good link
Fog harvesting

Dew or fog collection works similarly

atmpspheric moisture collection
 
master pollinator
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We have the opposite problem here in Maine as we get plenty of rain, in fact in the past 20 years our annual rainfall has increased by 5 inches! We already get a 50 inches a year or so. But if you think that is great, consider again. We have to manage it.

This can be tough because a big portion of the year our ground is frozen, so if that precipitation comes down as snow, it might melt off over frozen ground and slip right into our many rivers and streams and taken out to sea. To prevent erosion, that means lots of swales and ditches to divert that water, but also means crops are prone to drought in the summer too.

Now that the background information is out of the way though, how does my farm deal with massive amounts of water/drought all in the same year?

1) Alfalfa: That is a grass that sends roots way down deep, and here ledge rock can be 4 inches deep, or 40 feet deep depending. Water always sits on top of ledgerock underground, so those tap roots help "irrigate" the fields. The percentage of the alfalfa in the mix is dependent on the exposure of the field, but that is another story, it varies anyway between 10% and 90% of teh sward. (It also nitrogen fixes)

2) As I mentioned earlier, we use a lot of swales here.

3) We farm wetland areas. It is a big myth that livestock will not eat sward typically found in wetlands. That is NOT true. Wetland swards typically matures really fast, like that of Orchard Grass, so what happens is, with tradional wheeled farm equipment, by the time the area is dry enough to get on with tractors, the grass is nasty tasting to animals and farmers conclude that livestock hate it. Not so, they just need TRACKED equipment to get on the fields while it is still sweet tasting.

4) Mowed height. Unlike some farmers who drop the mower right to the ground and scalp the hay and corn ground, we pick up the cutter heatds and mow higher. That results in a higher "stubble" as it is called, and allows for better mulching of the soil. This protects the soil from sunlight, wind erosion, and provides residue for bacteria.

5) LIDAR Mapping. It sounds silly, but when the entire farm is mapped in 2 foot contours using LIDAR Mapping, it gives me a REALLY good idea where water is moving and where. From that I can make choices on everything from what to plant, to making swales and ditches. In short, I do not know where every drop of water is going on every square foot of this farm...I know where every drop of water is going on every other square foot. That is amazing information to have!



 
John C Daley
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From http://www.climatetechwiki.org

Financial requirements and costs top:
The costs vary depending on the size of the fog catchers, quality of and access to the materials, labour, and location of the site.  Small fog collectors cost between $ 75 and $ 200 each to build. Large 40-m² fog collectors cost between $1,000 and $1,500 and can last for up to ten years. A village project producing about 2,000 litres of water per day will cost about $ 15,000 (FogQuest). Multiple-unit systems have the advantage of a lower cost per unit of water produced, and the number of panels in use can be changed as climatic conditions and demand for water vary (UNEP, 1997b). Community participation will help to reduce the labour cost of building the fog harvesting system.


Fog Quest

This book is available FogQuest Fog Water Collection Manual from
book in pdf

The book is also available in a soft back from Amazon, but they will not send it to Australia, I would love it if somebody could help me buy one by having it sent to them, and then have it posted to me in Australia at my cost
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:We have the opposite problem here in Maine as we get plenty of rain, in fact in the past 20 years our annual rainfall has increased by 5 inches! We already get a 50 inches a year or so. But if you think that is great, consider again. We have to manage it.


Climate is a funny thing sometimes.

Southern Vancouver Island tends towards the 45-50 inches of rain mark (I can't speak directly to Ranson's microclimate.)

It's just a very Mediterranean precipitation pattern, with colder winters (and typically more total rain) than an actual Mediterranean climate.
 
r ranson
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Another goal on the farm is we want to use techniques that are accessible to everyone.  Low to zero cost to set up. No maintenance.  No equipment.

If we capture the dew with netting, then we need to store and handle the water.  This increases infostructure needs.

I think it does have good uses. I would love to try it at a later time.  For the next few years, our main focus is on improving moisture holding properties in the soil.  
 
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Gravel gets used a lot in southern California for xeriscaping, but it also helps capture the morning dew, which is our primary form of precipitation. We supposedly average around 10 inches a year, but the various weather stations in my area suggest we've had 3 inches total over the last year. But some mornings I see damp rocks around the roof drip line when it's a humid night and drops below the dew point.

I've been adding compost and mulch to the property, but a thick mulch layer actually reduces the water captured here compared to a thinner gravel layer, because of the dew. Dew might get the first inch of mulch wet, but that evaporates in the early morning so none reaches the soil itself. With rocks that dew drips down into the soil. But I still favor the mulch! I still have damp soil under 6 inches of bone dry mulch, and it hasn't rained for about 4 months and probably won't again for another 4 months. Fingers are crossed for torrential dew flows!
 
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Here is Kansas the farmers raise a quickly maturing variety of winter wheat. I have raised it in my back yard for fun and for cracked wheat to ad to my bread.

Basically, the seed is planted in the Fall and the grain starts to grow when it rains in the Fall. Winter snow covers it and protects it, though a somewhat reduced harvest will be gotten even if there is little snow.

In June, things often dry up for the rest of the summer but then the wheat is harvested in June. Having little rainfall in June just means that the fields will be dry when the wheat is harvested.

This works very well n Kansas: my area in the USA is noted for its large grain harvests.

r. ranson, can you share what vegetables do well for you? Because my water bill this year is higher than I care for, and I would like to try raising vegetables that need less irrigation water!
 
Travis Johnson
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Here we have lots of rocks (this is Maine and a reason we are known for our rock walls), but sadly we pick them and lug them off to said walls to make higher ones. I always thought this was stupid since rocks actually allow more moisture to be in the soil. The problem of course is damage to equipment and getting seed between the rock, so my father's answer back in the 1960's was to build  3 point hitch rock crusher that broke the rock into manageable sizes and leave it in the field.

Ingenious.

It never caught on because I do not know of any 3 point hitch rock crushers.

But now we have rock hardy equipment. Our corn planter for instance, is designed to withstand hitting rocks basketball sized.

We got everything to do it better, we just keep doing it the old, difficult way because there is no task on a farm worse than picking rocks (with maybe the exception of withdrawing retained afterbirth from a dairy cow, but that is another thread).
 
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r ranson wrote:Moisture capture in the soil - we spent a lot of time adding to the soil and building up this.  We also keep the sheep uphill of this area so their manure can wash down into the soil in the winter and feed the microbes.

...

avoid mulch - mulch dries out too quickly in our climate and requires extra water. We've had success with mulch so long as it gets watered twice a week and deeply, but if we do that, it harbours plant-eating bugs, so it's a lot of effort and resources for minimal benefit.  Since the goal is to avoid all irrigation, I'm reducing our mulch experiments.



How do you build up the soil without using mulch in some form? All forms of organic material, wood chips, manure, compost, leaves, etc, are all mulch on some level. Even chop-and-drop and green manures are essentially mulch. It's all biomass, usually placed on the surface. If you use none of this, what do you do to add to the soil? What is your definition of mulch?
 
r ranson
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I dig the organic matter in or feed it to the animals and they apply it in the forum of poo.

Mulch needs moisture and warmth to become soil. We so seldom have both at the same time, that I still have experiments where I applied mulch nine years ago with hardly any sign of becoming soil, whereas places I don't use mulch have several feet of new soil, depending on the experiment.

Because I make experiments, I can see what works on my farm and what doesn't.  It is very easy to setup experiments and I learned more from observing the results than from any theory.  I've also closely watched the natural parts on the farm to see how nature builds soil - it uses very little mulch.

Most of the theory in favour of mulch works in conditions where it rains in the summer.  But it is far from universal!

The best way to know what works in your conditions is to set up experiments with and without different variables.  
 
Lauren Ritz
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It's nice to have common understanding of definitions. Thanks.

No large animals allowed, unfortunately. Even chickens aren't in the plan for a few more years. I have got to build the soil, on a 0 budget, without animals, so mulch it will have to be. Cover cropping as the system develops, but right now not even weeds will survive without watering.

I will agree that mulch isn't a long term solution under most conditions, but it is a first step toward bringing dead dirt back to life.
 
r ranson
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You can try trenching the compost and other organic matter.  Hugelkulture is another good option for building soil.
 
John C Daley
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Lauren, I think you will find chickens will be beneficial to you and the build up of soil
 
Lauren Ritz
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Hugelculture is another issue. Maybe I did it wrong. The logs just seemed to suck up any water provided and the area around them was bone dry while the logs were covered with fungus hyphae (but no fruiting bodies). I concluded that it was another of those techniques that works well if you have plenty of water. Which makes sense, considering where it was created. I'll probably get around to trying trenches eventually, but right now I just want the dirt covered so any life in it doesn't bake and it can start to recover.
 
Lauren Ritz
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John C Daley wrote:Lauren, I think you will find chickens will be beneficial to you and the build up of soil


They would, but I can't do chickens yet. No coop, no money to feed them, and not growing enough yet to take care of them without buying food. That one will have to wait.
 
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Thank you for sharing! I live in the same region as you and I have the same concerns, so these tips are valuable.

Do you till the soil where your annuals are growing? Also, do you water your fruit and nut trees at all when they're young?
 
John C Daley
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One chook or even better a Guinea Fowl may feed themselves. Guine fowl roost in tress or anywhere high.
 
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John C Daley wrote:One chook or even better a Guinea Fowl may feed themselves. Guinea fowl roost in tress or anywhere high.



I live in a city with neighbors within cackling distance. :) I hesitate to introduce anything that the raccoons and dogs can get to. Chickens are in the plan, but not yet.
 
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Lauren Ritz wrote:Hugelculture is another issue. Maybe I did it wrong. The logs just seemed to suck up any water provided and the area around them was bone dry while the logs were covered with fungus hyphae (but no fruiting bodies). I concluded that it was another of those techniques that works well if you have plenty of water. Which makes sense, considering where it was created. I'll probably get around to trying trenches eventually, but right now I just want the dirt covered so any life in it doesn't bake and it can start to recover.



I would be interested in your Hugelculture.  Based on what i've seen + Paul's videos and such i think it would work.  The question would be paul says it typically would be 3yrs before it's optimum.  Also, you mentioned seeing the wood was wet but the area around it was dry.  Was the wood not completely covered?  What was the height of your Hugel?  I'm looking at creating one too and i'm in a similar zone so i'm curious.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Jonathan Ward wrote: I would be interested in your Hugelculture.  Based on what i've seen + Paul's videos and such i think it would work.  The question would be paul says it typically would be 3yrs before it's optimum.  Also, you mentioned seeing the wood was wet but the area around it was dry.  Was the wood not completely covered?  What was the height of your Hugel?  I'm looking at creating one too and i'm in a similar zone so i'm curious.



Paul says the optimal size is 7 feet, but I just can't justify that in a small urban yard. I did more of a hugel-pit than a mound. I actually did a couple of them, all with the same result. The wood was fully buried, several logs covered with brush and then soil. I kept them watered for at least the first year, but when I dug down into the pile the soil was completely dry. Even drier around the logs than the rest of the area, if that's possible (which it obviously was). I dug up one of the piles earlier this week just to check and even the bark was still intact. This is after apx five years, two watering before I abandoned the attempt.

When I say the wood was covered with fungus hyphae, I don't mean that the wood was wet--it wasn't. Just wet enough inside, I suppose, that fungus had started to colonize it.
 
Jonathan Ward
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Interesting.  I would have expected different results.  I do agree with the 7ft being hard to justify.  I live in the suburbs right now and a full size hugel would be bigger than the fences around me.  I'm pretty sure my HOA would have a fit.  Thanks for the details  some good information for me going forward.
 
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Lauren Ritz wrote:
Paul says the optimal size is 7 feet, but I just can't justify that in a small urban yard. I did more of a hugel-pit than a mound. I actually did a couple of them, all with the same result. The wood was fully buried, several logs covered with brush and then soil. I kept them watered for at least the first year, but when I dug down into the pile the soil was completely dry. Even drier around the logs than the rest of the area, if that's possible (which it obviously was).



What I found in my semi-dry climate was that if any of the wood was above grade, the whole thing dried out.  The wood wicked any moisture up into the exposed area and it all dried out.  So now I completely bury all wood completely below grade and make sure it is thoroughly covered with soil.  This method allowed me to reduce irrigation by maybe half - there was a dramatic difference between the buried wood areas and the untreated parts of the garden.  Now my entire kitchen garden has buried wood except where some trees were planted (they died, so I will be digging up those spots and burying more wood over the next few years).

https://permies.com/t/52077/Buried-Wood-Beds
 
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Tyler, how deep did you bury it? Since it was a test, I did several different depths--up to 2 feet down, with exactly the same result. I'm curious about your soil and if that is the difference. Mine is primarily sand (which is why I need to improve it!)
 
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Jonathan Ward wrote:Interesting.  I would have expected different results.



I think the major difference is your 30+ inches of rain per year. I'm lucky to get ten inches, and that makes a huge difference in decomposition.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Lauren Ritz wrote:Tyler, how deep did you bury it? Since it was a test, I did several different depths--up to 2 feet down, with exactly the same result. I'm curious about your soil and if that is the difference. Mine is primarily sand (which is why I need to improve it!)



Mine are between 18 and 24 inches deep, with 3-6 inches of soil covering the top, level with the surrounding soil.  My soil is heavy clay and my rainfall is often more than twice yours.  Those are big differences!  You have the advantage of a higher latitude, which reduces evaporation, but the sandy soil may completely eliminate that advantage.
 
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raven ranson wrote:airwells are a big part of what we do.  This has proven most useful with fruit trees.  48 trees out of 50 survive with a small airwell, and 1 out of 25 survived without.  Planted at the same time, in the same soil, three years ago.  The larger the airwell, the more the tree thrives.


Thank you for that link, I never heard of these!

How do you make your particular air wells? Just piles of rocks nearby? How much rock?

What do you mean your airwells are "planted"?

Encouraging plants to capture their own dew has been the easiest way so far.


And, uh, how do you encourage plants to do that?

Apologies for the hundred-question interrogation - this seems important to my specific situation.
 
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