John Polk wrote:
Wow! My mind is picturing me walking around inside a 14,000 gallon "wine barrel" with a backpack propane weed burner, slowly giving a slight char to the surface. To Hell with the water...I want to fill it with wine!
Ken Peavey wrote:
The first part of a good plan involves gathering information.
I'm in north FL, about halfway between Jax and Tall. Average rainfall is 54 inches/year. The last 3 summers have seen drought conditions, with D3-Extreme conditions reached this year in my area. The Suwannee River is so low the river bed is exposed and there is grass growing 2' high. The pasture is turning brown, grass growth is so slow I have to purchase hay for the bull. Drought is insidious, and climate destabilization concerns me greatly.
There are 2 primary soil types in Florida. The northern half of the state is sugar sand, the southern part is muck. Muck is great for growing, but drainage can be a problem. I'm up here in the sugar sand, so I can offer experience growing in it. This is a quarzipsamment entisol soil-there is no soil horizon, course sand from top to bottom, and its a long way to the bottom. Water drains right through it washing away nutrients, and is good for pasture or trees.
A particular problem with the climate is humidity and warmth. Microbial activity is such that organic materials are consumed rapidly. I can pour compost into the soil by the truckload, in a year, it's back to sand. There is a plus side to this-nutrients are released rapidly, and it is possible to grow all sorts of stuff. Mild winters see only a handful of frosty mornings. You can grow crops all year round, but the winter is the dry season, some sort of irrigation is crucial.
Reducing water demand is a key ingredient to a successful operation. Organic matter is a fine way to retain water, but a means of trapping the water and nutrients is the goal. Hugelkulture is showing great promise in this area. The climate allows lush growth and abundant organic inputs if you have the time and energy to gather the stuff, and its always a good time to make compost. Compost production is quick down here.
Overhead irrigation is problematic as up to 1/3 of the water will evaporate before it penetrates the soil. Drip irrigation is effective in maintaining soil moisture and uses significantly less water. I have had excellent results with Pitcher Irrigation. Using double dug raised beds and lots of compost, I find that about a gallon per day per 20 square feet is barely sufficient to produce some crops. Much less than that, you are wasting your time. This works out to 1/4" of rain in a weeks time on the planted area, and more is desired. In this soil, about an inch of rain per week is needed.
Water issues are of major concern in the southern half of the state. Low elevations, a massive agriculture industry, and the large population place great demands on available water. Being a low peninsula, there is no aquifer to tap. Most of the water in south Florida comes from a major public works project stretching from Gainesville to Miami. The system was planned and built since the 50s and is under great stress. Population growth is continually adding to the problem. Due to the climate, controlling bacteria in municipal water often results in water quality warnings being issued. Using treated water for irrigating crops brings with it a great risk of soil salination.
In the north, ground water is abundant, and the population is much lower. High levels of iron and calcium can cause problems with irrigation systems clogging from built up mineral deposits. Just to my northeast is the Okeefenokee Swamp. The sun would have to explode for that to dry out. Although some water supplies are high in hydrogen sulfide, giving well water a foul rotten egg smell, my water is crystal clear.
Rainwater collection should be no problem at all, except for the drought. An inch of rain falling on a 1000 sqft roof is about 750 gallons. If you had to gather rainwater for personal consumption, you should have no problem at all. A normal rain pattern in my area would see brief afternoon thunderstorm several times a week. If you intend to gather rain in order to irrigate crops, you have the numbers to help you do the math on how much water you'll need and how much area you have to gather it from.
As far as the cost of drilling a well, A buddy of mine knows a guy who will drill a well for $3k. Construction is just about dead right now, these guys are hunting for work. I think your $7k figure is more flexible than you think.
Thanks for the great information, Ken. That's really helpful.
The land I'm looking for is in the southern area of the state near the Gulf Coast, not far from Naples. So it sounds like I'd be contending with the muck, but a general lack of rain.
When you said there's no aquifer to tap, you're not saying drilling wells is impossible, right?
What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of water-collecting earthworks like swales in Florida? I know they're used for drainage along the roads, but will they effectively increase groundwater on a property?
Also, I'm curious to know if you've seen any food forests based around swales in action in southern Florida, and if you noticed a significantly reduced need for water.
Ken Peavey wrote:
This has me thinking that raised beds are not the solution. In my house in town I used raised beds. If the beds were level with the ground I suspect I would have beneficial results. The paths between the beds will see water pool up due to less drainage. The beds readily absorb water so the water does not pool in the beds. Seems to me if the water from the pathways could simply flow into the beds I get the paths drained and the beds with more water. Why am I concerned with the drainage ability of a raised bed? Bring the water, along with the washed out nutrients, to the beds. I've been doing it backwards.