Organize Those Drip Irrigation Parts!

IMG_0772Behold: an ordered toolbox full of irrigation parts. Now this could be one of those self-aggrandizing homesteady posts were it not for the fact that it took me fifteen years to organize my drip irrigation parts. I spent those previous years fishing for parts in a partially collapsed cardboard box. Take my advice: if you own a house, are an avid gardener and use some kind of timed irrigation, thou shalt organize all those parts.

Maintaining an irrigation system is, unfortunately, not a build it and leave it proposition. Inevitably, a shovel slices through a line or a surprise freeze bursts a pipe. More importantly, a garden changes over time. For instance, a drip line under a tree needs to be expanded as the tree grows or maybe that group of natives you planted has matured and no longer needs irrigation.

“All is change” as Heraclitus once said. And I’m sure that because of his philosophy of impermanence, Heraclitus carefully separated and organized his drip irrigation parts.

What is green water?

Rhubarb-Roots

Rhubarb roots, as reproduced in Root Demystified. One square equals one foot.

This is a new vocabulary word for me:

You’ve heard of grey water and black water–but what is green water?

Well, if you’re a sailor, it’s a term for the water swamping the deck during a storm. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Amongst sailors of the soil (i.e. gardeners), green water is the water supply held around the roots of the plants. Water from rain or irrigation which does not run off the surface of the soil, nor run down through the soil to ground water, but which stays with the plant for its use.

Green water is a plant’s envelope of life. It’s also a space of water storage which we don’t often consider. We’ll invest in a rain barrel, but we will forget the massive storage tank which nature has placed under our feet.

If we have healthy soil in our yards, our plants have a baseline supply of water. It’s held in the space between the soil particles and in the bodies of the microscopic creatures which live in healthy soil. How much water? I don’t know, but the real answer is, enough. Plants acclimated to your local climate (natives or similar), living in spongy, healthy soil don’t need supplemental irrigation. Not even in the summer. (Drip line doesn’t occur spontaneously in the wild, after all.) Conversely, in times of heavy rainfall, healthy, spongy soils also resist flooding, swamping and rotting.

By focusing on healthy soils, and allowing rain water to percolate into the soil, we empower the plants to take care of themselves. That’s better for them, and less work for us!

It’s easy to have healthy soils and deep green water reservoirs. We just have to take some commonsense steps to allow life to develop in the soil:

  • We stop adding fertilizers to our yards, even organic ones. They actually collapse the soil structure and make the plants into fertilizer junkies. Mulch, compost and worm castings are all a yard needs.
  • We design our yards so they capture and hold rain water rather than ejecting it straight to the street.
  • We leave the leaves. We keep our clippings and fallen leaves on our land, and let them return to the soil. Mulch is is vital to living soil, while bare soil is dead soil.
  • We make our yards lush. Soil life occurs around the root zones of plants, so more plants means better soil.
  • We plant trees, which the founder of TreePeople, Andy Lipkis, calls “living cisterns.”

Greywater Action Installer Course

GW-alternate-laneyL2L

How about turning our historic drought into a job opportunity? That’s what you could do if you sign up for Greywater Action’s six day installer course coming up in November:

This course is designed for people with either basic plumbing, landscaping, or permaculture skills who want to learn how to design and build simple, economical residential greywater systems.

You will learn about the theory behind simple and high-end systems including the indoor use of greywater. We’ll cover basic plumbing and landscaping skills needed for the four types of common simple greywater systems. You will learn how to conduct a site assessment, determine which system to install and how to maintain existing systems. Additionally you’ll learn about what plants do best with greywater and the do’s and don’t of residential greywater reuse. By the end of the course you will know about proper installation of code compliant washing machine, and simple systems under the CA state code.

For more information and to sign up head here.

The best dry toilet ever

Version 2

We are fortunate to have talented friends all around us, because they are a never-ending source of inspiration.

Case in point: Our friend, Gloria, needed a toilet for her off-grid compound. She asked our mutual friend, Daniel, to make her one. Daniel is a gifted maker– all his creations seem to have an inherent grace about them. Using the classic text, The Humanure Handbook, as a resource, he built her the most beautiful dry toilet system I’ve ever seen.

See more pics of this system and read Daniel’s story on his book-as-a-blog, The Cabin Dweller’s Texbook.

Also, we interviewed Daniel earlier this year for Root Simple Podcast #044.

How to Water Trees During a Drought

This is a practical follow-up to my scree last week on trees dying because no one is watering them. Thing is, we should be watering them, even if we’re really worried about the drought, even if we’re doing everything we can to save water. We need to invest in trees because they save more water than they use. They are our allies in this drought, and they are dying.

Now, I thought I was going to have to write up all this tree-watering stuff from scratch, but our friend Richard Hayden, the head gardener of the amazing Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, sent me a note with links to these videos produced by the Forest Service. I like these videos because they’re concise, and the info is solid.

Thank you, Richard!
Thank you, Forest Service!

The video at the top of the post is on watering mature trees, the one at the bottom about watering young trees–the two techniques are a bit different.

Also, you can find more learning resources at Tree People.