Irrigation – drainage – water harvesting – permaculture

During the last storm a couple weeks ago we watched Greening the Desert and several other videos on water harvesting and swales.

We had been hoping for snow, but didn’t even get as much rain as was forecast.  I read in the Meadview Monitor that the rain seems to stop at the cattle guard.  It POURS all the time between Dolan and Patterson grade.  We’ve been getting very little rain, but plenty of wind.  Somebody suggested moving the cattle guard.

Right after the storms we surveyed our lot and I’ve been wanting to grow grapes on this East-facing hill anyway.  Inspired by Geoff Lawton, we started shoveling the same day.

This area has a ton of these dead-looking  Black  Bushes.   Some are in fact dead, but many have started to grow already.  They are a fire hazard and I thought good for nothing.  However, as I started to clear the bushes, I noticed that the soil is MUCH darker as their roots were decomposing.  And of course they prevent erosion, catch seeds and moisture and they provide shade for seedlings.  I found a barrel cactus right in the middle of one.

It looks horrible with all these rocks, but in fact it is the best soil on our lot.

This was the first swale, but we abandoned it and moved a few feet lower.

Here you also see part of a (never used) broken septic tank.  We got it from a neighbor and originally thought we might use it to hold water, but it was too damaged.  So we’re cutting it into into “rings”  to create level planting areas for trees  on the hill.

We dug two small swales and will make them deeper and wider after rains.  It was amazing how easy it was to dig, hardly needed the pick.  I piled up brush, dead Joshua trees or yuccas and whatever plant debris to keep the swale from washing away and of course to provide nutrients for whatever we’ll grow on top.

After days of clouds and the occasional drizzle, we got some serious HAIL yesterday afternoon

Last week we got 4″ drainage pipe to tie into our gray water system.  I had already plumbed the shower and laundry so I could switch from septic to landscape watering.

So now we’ve dug a trench from the house to the hill and started on a holding pond.   The idea is to have the gray water accumulate there and have it cleaned by plants (I have to find again what they are, but they’re even used for sewage).

We use only biodegradable soaps anyway, but one reason for the holding pond is to accumulate water so that we don’t have constant wet areas at the top and nothing in the lower swales.   Occasionally we’ll drain the pond and flood one of the swales. It’ll all be “engineered” so that the water goes where we want it to go.

You can also see our poor grapefruit trees and the juniper that got blown off the table behind it during the storms a couple weeks ago.  Last year the grapefruit trees totally froze.  So we’ve had them in the house and yesterday afternoon I thought it would be a good idea to set them outside in the light rain.  Of course it promptly hailed, but they made it through ok.  It’s time we build our greenhouse addition.

And we have no idea where to plant the juniper.  We bought it before Christmas and were going to decorate it, but never got around to it.  Since we are still under construction, it’s tough to decide what to do with it.

As soon as it stopped raining we assessed our new irrigation system. This ditch gets all the runoff from the building and the lots above us.  It used to run down through the grapes and herbs.   So we installed the shower drain on Friday and dug a trench and tied it into the gray water pipes to drain  into our holding pond.  The drain was PLUGGED with some straw and we’ll put a wire cage around it before it rains again.  Jose cleared it off and then we watched the water flow!

We’re obviously not yet done, just glued pipes on Friday until it started raining, but there will be some return trips to the Home Depot. Instead of digging to the top of the hill, I realized that we can just use the ditch at the property line (below the grapes) and save us some digging.

We’re also going to run drinking water to a faucet before we fill the ditch, but hadn’t thought of that when we were in town and need to buy pipe.

It was GREAT to see the water running!

Here is the little pond and our puppy Andy.  He’s a water dog and he had to drink from every ditch!  In summer he had a little plastic pool and he loved laying in the water and he swam in Lake Mead like a pro.

It was such a thrill to watch the water finally reach the pond.  Eventually we’d like it to hold  at least 1000 gallons, but we’ll see how the digging goes, already hit caliche.

Finally the pond overflowed and water ran to the top swale.

This is the upper ditch with the shower drain and some hail.  The walkway around the addition is no longer flooding, all the standing water drained.

I’m so happy that it all worked as planned.

Of course there’s still lots of work to do, dig the trench from the pond to a ditch at the property line and design it so that we can easily direct the water to either the upper or lower swale.

Also, at the bottom of the hill OCCASIONALLY the water runs in a little dry wash and we might add a swale down there.  It’s a flat area where we could grow corn or whatever.

Now we have to find plants to substitute for the black bush, fruit and/or nut trees for the hill, decide how and where to grow grapes and WHAT ELSE to plant.

Ultimately we want to plant on the swales, but first we have to make them wider and deeper and the excavated dirt goes on the swales.

Play by FoxSaver®

Play by FoxSaver®

Play by FoxSaver®

Play by FoxSaver®

Video: Greening the desert in the Dead Sea Valley

Greening the Desert II: Greening the Middle East from Craig Mackintosh on Vimeo.

Geoff and Nadia Lawton started this fantastic project in the Dead Sea Valley.

Greening the Desert II – Final

Aid Projects, Biological Cleaning, Compost, Conservation, Demonstration Sites, Education Centres, Food Forests, Food Plants – Perennial, Fungi, Irrigation, Plant Systems, Rehabilitation, Salination, Soil Biology, Soil Conservation, Trees, Water Harvesting — by Craig Mackintosh December 11, 2009

When there’s no soil, no water, no shade, and where the sun beats down on you to the tune of over 50°C (122°F), the word ‘poverty’ begins to take on a whole new meaning. It is distinct and surreal. It’s a land of dust, flies, intense heat and almost complete dependency on supply lines outside of ones control. This is the remains of what was once called the ‘fertile crescent’. It is the result of thousands of years of abuse. It is a glimpse at a world where the environment – whose services provide for all human need – has all but completely abandoned us. This is a glimpse at the world our consumer society is inexorably moving towards, as our exponential-growth culture gorges itself at ever-increasing rates.

The original Greening the Desert video clip has been watched hundreds of thousands of times and has been posted to countless blogs and web pages in the datasphere. Although only five minutes long, it has inspired people around the globe, daring the lucid ones amongst us, those who can see the writing on the wall, to begin to hope and believe in an abundant future – a future where our survival doesn’t have to be based on undermining and depleting the very resources of soil, water, phosphorus, etc. that we depend on. The work profiled in that clip demonstrates that humanity can be a positive element within the biosphere. Man doesn’t have to destroy. Man can repair.

In the clip at top I introduce you today to Greening the Desert II. I shot the footage for this video last month (October 2009) and edited it on location in the Dead Sea Valley in Jordan – the lowest place on earth, at 400 metres below sea level. Much of it was shot in or near the village of Al Jawfa where I stayed, which is effectively a Palestinian refugee camp that has morphed over the decades since 1948 into something resembling a functional small town. It was first shown to delegates of the ninth International Permaculture Conference (IPC9) in Malawi, Africa at the very beginning of November and is now being released for general consumption. The video will take you to the original Greening the Desert site, letting you see its present condition after six years of neglect when funding ran out in 2003. You’ll also be introduced to our new project site – the Jordan Valley Permaculture Project, aka ‘Greening the Desert, the Sequel’ – and see some of the spin-off effects within Jordan from the influence of the original site; promises of much more to come.

The work we’re undertaking in Jordan is in accordance with what we call the ‘Permaculture Master Plan‘, where the project’s future is assured through funding from running educational courses. Project sites thus become self-sufficient, and self-replicating.

About two weeks ago we watched Greening the Desert and a few other videos on swales and I knew we’d start digging right away.  As it is pouring right now, we have two small swales filling up.

There’s LOTS of cools stuff at