Practical Permaculture – Water In Your Garden

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This is a screen shot from Google Earth… Forest County, PA… And all of those lines leading to the little dots… Well those are gas wells… Enough said… But wait… This is a State Park… And only a single county out of 67… Think about it for a minute… Then think about the impact this has on not only the water… But the entire ecosystem… This… To me… Is sacrilegious…

Water is probably the most valuable natural resource available on our planet, it is irreplaceable. Whiskey is worth drinking, but water is worth fighting for. It reminds me of a meme that was circulating around Facebook a while back… Basically a young shirtless boy standing in the desert with a completely disgusted look on his face… The caption was simply “You mean to tell me, you have so much clean water… That you shit in it!” My answer to this meme is simple… Yes… And not only do we shit in it… We mix it with noxious chemicals… Inject it into the ground under extreme pressure… And fracture equally noxious gasses out of the ground so we can burn them in order to heat our McMansions… We just have that much…

Now… I’m not saying you have to donate all of your money to your local water conservation non-profit in order to be eco-conscious… In fact… I think just the opposite… I actually believe that is the exact opposite of eco-conscious… Maybe… Executively-conscious… But not ecologically conscious… I don’t give a rats ass what anyone says… That is just how I see it… With that said… I believe awareness is key… An awareness of the resources available to us on this earth… An awareness of the delicate connections we have to the earth… And the connections the earth has to each and every element it contains… To think that the removal of one of those elements does not drastically effect all of the other elements in the system is a failure of paramount proportions… Respect people…

With that said… Water is an essential element in gardening, it is what makes our plants grow. Even plants that do not require you to physically irrigate, are getting water somehow. The most common mistake I see people make in their gardens is not watering often enough, or even more common, not deeply enough. Another common mistake is thinking your plants will benefit from a little drink every once in a while…

BleedingPuddle©

“Swimmers” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Dyed puddle, bleeding hearts and reflection – I have shot bleeding hearts from every angle imaginable… This has been my favorite angle so far…

You know… I could go on and on about my peeves… Lets get to the good stuff…

A plant does not benefit from a little drink every once in a while, you should always water your plants thoroughly. A plant grows roots partly for the purpose of attaining water from the ground, the reason you should water your plants deeply is to promote deep root growth. If you only give your plants light sprays with the hose, your plant will only be looking for water at the surface of your soil. If water is regularly available in the top 4″ of soil, your plants will have no reason to send roots deep into the ground. The idea behind watering your garden is to establish your plants, once they are established they will only need watered in the driest of times. You water in the beginning, so you don’t have to water in the future.

The time of day that you water can have some differing effects, but as a general rule of thumb watering your garden during the hottest part of the day is probably the least efficient use of your water. Water at a time of the day that will allow the water to penetrate the soil before it has a chance to evaporate, as long as the sun is not baking the earth around your plant… you should be fine… Just remember your plants do not immediately absorb the water you apply, it takes time. Evening is also a good time to water, but you can run the risk of disease or mildew. I personally prefer early morning because it tends to give my plants that added energy they need to make it through the sunniest of days with as little stress as possible… But that is just my preference…

But Chris, how long do I water my garden for? I mean… Exactly how long?.. I was worried you would ask me that… Ok… As a basic guideline… Water your plants directly at the base of the plant, do not soak the plant as a whole as this will promote disease. Annuals should be watered every day for the first week after planting, count to 5 for each plant. After the first week, water 2 to 3 times a week for the next two weeks. If your annuals survive the first month in the ground, you will only have to water once a week if it doesn’t rain.

© chriscondello 2013

“Evening Storm” – © chriscondello 2013 – Conceptual Composition – My Backyard – Wilkinsburg, PA – Call this what you will… But to me… This photograph is like a painting… Blue Salvia as my canvas… And Golden Heuchera my medium… Taken in the evening light accompanying a storm…

Perennials, shrubs and trees do not need watered nearly as much, a week or two of regular watering is often enough to get the plant off to a good start… These types of plants typically have bigger roots stuffed into bigger pots, accordingly they require a bit more water, think along the lines of 10 to 20 seconds of direct watering per plant… Newly planted trees can often require a little more water, I will leave the water on them for up to a minute… Again, once a perennial or tree has resumed natural growth, you are not doing it any favors by watering it… You really want the plant to learn to take care of itself… We don’t breastfeed indefinitely… So don’t water indefinitely… You should be working to water your garden less… Not more…

Slope can greatly decrease water absorption, the faster the water moves down hill the less the soil can absorb. One solution is to slow the rate of speed at which your water flows downhill, think miniature swale. If slowing the rate at which your water flows downhill is not an option, water very slowly by applying water a little at a time directly above your target plant. You should be able to watch the water slowly absorb into the earth, any excess will be evident by the stream running away from your plants. This may seem like a lot of work, it is important to remember that once your plants are established and growing normally… You can quit watering…

Sourcing water is another question I am commonly asked, usually along the lines of rain water vs. city water. Without going into science stuff… And based on common sense alone… What do you think?.. To me, the obvious answer is rain water is better. City water is filtered using chlorine among many other chemicals, rain water is filtered by nature… That’s a “no brainer” as far as I am concerned… But I’m also a realist, rain water is not always available. I can run my single rain barrel dry in a few days when the weather is dry, at that point I will switch over to city water… I mean… I drink the stuff… And bathe in it… If it’s good enough for me… Then it’s good enough for my plants…

NineMileRun

“Nine Mile Run” – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Nine Mile Run in Frick Park… Basically a collection of storm water from 3 communities… Storm water does not get treated in any way… It is released into your favorite creek… And typically flows right back into our drinking water supply…

Rainwater collection is a massive topic that has warranted entire books to be written about the subject, I’m going to give it a paragraph or two. Rain barrels have recently come into style, they can be cheaply purchased at just about any big box store in the world. I see them all over my neighborhood thanks to a local non-profit working to restore Frick Park’s Nine Mile Run… Which happens to be a place I regularly work in, and is the location of many of the photographs contained within this website… Anyway… The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association made them very cheap and readily available through a program they offer… I consider this non-profit one of the good guys, I feel we play for the same team.

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/stone-sculptures-in-frick-park/

The point I want to make is that these rain barrels do nothing if you do not utilize the sweet rainwater that they collect, I can’t begin to tell you how many of these barrels become nothing more than an intermediate reservoir between your gutter, and the very drain the barrel was intended to bypass in the first place. Think about it like this… 1 inch of rainfall… Falling on an area of 1000 square feet… Will produce 600 gallons of water… Most commercial rain barrels are around 100 gallons, everything beyond that 100 gallons is expelled out of the overflow system. Rain barrels need to be used…

A good rain barrel tip I can offer from experience… Do not place a rain barrel directly on the ground, it needs to be elevated by as much as you safely can. The water level of your barrel needs to at least be higher than the height of the hose in your hand, while standing, just to give you enough pressure to get a trickle. Even if you placed your rain barrel on your roof, you would not get water pressure anywhere close to what you get out of your faucet or garden hose. I have no idea what the math for this one is, I just know someone much smarter than me explained it… And it sounded good… So… Just don’t expect to blast the bird crap off your car with your rain barrel, unless you get a pump…

So if you have replaced all of your down spouts with rain barrels… And you are watering your gardens as much as possible… After all… You just have a tiny urban garden… Well then you might as well dig a rain garden… Route all of your overflow valves to the garden… And let the rain garden do the rest of the work… I have written about rain gardens before… And will be writing more about them in the coming months… But for now… Check out this link…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/practical-urban-permaculture-rain-gardens/

To sum this article up… Water your plants thoroughly… And deeply… The idea of watering your plants is to stimulate deep root growth… If water is regularly available at the surface… It won’t stimulate deep root growth… Water from the base of your plants because unlike us… Plants do not require showers… Use rainwater as long as you have it… But don’t be afraid if your only other option is tap water… And experimentation with rain water collection and dispersal is a good thing… People should consider rain water one of the great yield possibilities of the garden…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Urban Permaculture – Rain Gardens

In nature, water is usually given time to slowly absorb into the ground, occasional extreme rainfall can overwhelm the ground causing flooding but nature has developed ways to handle the water. Urban environments containing massive amounts of concrete eliminate the natural watershed, but all of this water has to go somewhere. Any opportunity to use the run-off in the city should be utilized, it’s just common sense… But just incase you are still not convinced…

Excessive urban run-off picks up all of the pollution laying on the ground and fast tracks it past the natural systems of filtration, centralizes it, and dumps it straight into our rivers, streams and lakes. All of the oil and gas that is spilled on our roadways is flushed down the storm sewers, these sewers drain directly into our rivers, and our rivers empty right into the ocean. Normally rainwater has a chance to be absorbed into the ground, the simple act of that water percolating through our soil is what filters the pollutants out… Once they are filtered out, phytoremediation (land remediation using plants) processes can begin and eventually nature would handle or compensate for the load.

When we pave every surface in site, water  does not have a chance to be filtered. The theory behind a rain garden is simple, create a place for the water to collect to give it the time required to be properly absorbed into the ground regardless of how long it takes. The concept is simple in that it is just a hole in the ground, as with anything there are grades and scales that need to be considered. Amount of water, soil type, plant types and worst case scenario are just a few things to think about, every site will be different.

Rain gardens are often mistaken as a solution to flooding, although they could alleviate the frequency or intensity of a flood, they will not stop them. Storm water management plans always have a limit to how much water they can handle, nature likes to occasionally show us how limitless she can be. You can only humanly design a rain garden to handle so much water, I have seen them not only flood… but fill to the brim with rocks and mud… on top of $500 in brand new plants. All of the planning in the world couldn’t have prepared us for the 4″ of rainwater we got that morning, I’m going to stress again that rain gardens DO NOT stop floods! I worry people will want to install rain gardens as a solution to floods, only to be discouraged when it fails.

Rain garden design starts with identifying the need for one, and finding the most logical location. Not every site I visit needs a rain garden, rain gardens are not a requirement of permaculture by any means. They are a great solution to design problems that include the shedding of water, a last resort to water collection for other purposes. Urban environments pose an interesting problem due to the pavement to soil ratio favoring pavement, all urban rooftops drain to the same pipes the street runoff drains to… that’s a lot of water! Simply running those gutters to a hole in the ground filled with rocks would alleviate some of the strain, rain gardens just make that concept look nice.

Location is really just a logical decision, look for a place that water regularly pools, usually a depression in the ground or constant wet spot. The location in my experience, has been chosen for me, whether it’s man-made or natural, you will just know that it is the “logical” spot for it. Sloped properties that funnel to a central point also logically benefit from rain gardens, several rain gardens built down a dry valley could give most of the flood water that would otherwise run to the bottom of the property a chance to be absorbed into the ground. Rain gardens built-in a location like this would help control erosion as well, trees established in the “dam” side of the garden would secure it for years. On a larger scale these would be lakes or ponds, just dry “most of the time”  and adapted for home gardens.

Rain gardens don’t have to be about necessity, they are also a great way to handle the run-off from your gutters… I need to mention that this will not stop flooding in general, but it might stop your basement from flooding. A medium-sized rain garden properly placed away from your house, could easily handle most rain loads off your roof.

1 inch of rain, on a 1000 square foot roof will produce 600 gallons of water… Think about that for a couple of seconds… I’ll wait… ~~Modern rain barrels are equipped with overflow valves that when full, could flow into a rain garden. Honestly… Most rain barrels I come in contact with are only 60 gallons, have never been used before, and they have usually been full for years… A friend had one installed because they were told it would stop water from leaking into their basement, it worked for a week till the small barrel filled up… They didn’t garden and had no need for the extra water, it filled and the overflow was not set up properly… Sadly this person will not install another rain barrel ever, they would have been better off directing the downspout 5 or 6 feet into the grass… And the rain barrel wasn’t cheap… $150 I think…

Rain gardens can be one of the great features in your landscape, creative colors or river rocks can set them apart. If you don’t want a depression in your yard you can fill it to the top with rocks, the volume will be different but essentially it’s the same thing. If you can dig a hole, $150 can buy a lot of plants, native plants are prefered for their drought tolerance… after all, watering wouldn’t be rain! Trees require mentioning here, willows can absorb enormous amounts of water, so much that they have been known to break through drain pipes with their roots to get access to it.

Rain gardens will not solve all of our watershed problems, though they will alleviate them considerably. Whether used as a solution for erosion, or as a functional focal point in your landscape, rain gardens are here to stay! Although they are currently popular, they have been around for thousands of years in one form or another. I consider rain garden plants to be a post on its own, I guess you will just have to wait for me to get around to typing it up…

whiskeys worth drinking, but waters worth fighting for – chriscondello

The great Whitney Avenue 4th of July 2011 flood, I told the kids sewers are not garbage cans… Did they listen? Obviously not… These sewers are filled to the brim and flood at least once a year! Rain gardens won’t stop this but could lighten the overall load considerably.

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Mother Nature, Thou Art a Cruel and Heartless Bitch!

When a fly lands on a horse it uses its tail to swat the fly off, when it rains you use the windshield wipers in your car, but when the earth has a problem… all hell can break loose!

I believe that the earth is a sentient being capable of taking drastic and sometimes violent steps in order to heal itself, it is only when humans are in the path of these destructive forces that we label the event as a disaster. What about the events that led up to the disaster, and much more importantly… why did the disaster happen…

All natural events happen for a reason, the earth does not play games and it surely doesn’t joke around, when it needs something it will take it without asking. I hope to explain the theory behind many of these events, I want people to realize that our so-called “natural disasters” are not so much disasters, they are the earth curing its hangover.

  • Floods – The idea of flooding being a natural disaster is in most cases our fault explicitly, I mean we already know where they will occur… it’s called a flood plain for a reason people. We often build our towns and cities near the water, some of the most expensive land you can buy is often in a flood plain. In the past flooding was considered a blessing because of the nutrient rich silts that were deposited in the flood plain, these floods that occur periodically were at one time the backbone of our agriculture. Although the farmers placed their fields in the flood plain, the farmers were smart enough to build their houses above the flood line.
  • Wind – I remember earlier this Summer I was standing on the sidewalk on a windy day with the three-year old from my street, when the wind would blow she would grab my hand, stand on her tippy toes with her eyes closed and laugh away as the wind blew dust in our faces. As we stood their enjoying nature a massive branch snapped in a tree and came crashing to the ground with such force that it broke every other branch that was below it on the tree, all of these branches happened to be the ones that I had marked to be pruned. This was what led me to the realization that although pruning a tree is not exactly necessary, if we don’t prune the tree in a controlled and safe manner, nature will prune the tree for us in a violent and often destructive manner… The tree had developed a problem that was ultimately solved by mother nature who has been known to occasionally be a cruel and heartless bitch… Reminds me of someone I live with… Though she never cut me down… Just pruned the diseased and infested branches from my crown…
  • Fire – Fire is one of the most mis-understood natural disasters, yet it is so absolutely necessary to the survival of the earth. Many trees and plants have developed root systems that grow deep into the ground, there are many reasons for this but the one I want to touch on is to prevent the roots from being damaged by the fire. Native americans used to use controlled burns to clean up the ground below their nut trees, the fire would prune the lower branches and when timed properly could also be used to eliminate pests. Many nut trees develop problems with pests laying eggs in their young fruit, this fruit will often drop off the tree prematurely so the insect larvae can crawl into the ground and pupate until it is ready to re-start its life cycle. A properly timed burn can eliminate these infected nuts on the ground before the larvae has a chance to bore into the ground, this is my kind of integrated pest management.

The earth is not always destructive when it is solving a problem, many of its methods are actually quite beautiful events. Many of these events go un-noticed due to the fact that they have little to no immediate effects on human life.

  • Algae blooms – A byproduct of human life happens to be CO2, in the case of industry massive amounts of CO2 are pumped into our atmosphere. Plants are natures way of handling build-ups of CO2 in our atmosphere, over water this occurs as massive and sometimes colorful algae blooms that are a direct result, and solution to the high levels of CO2 present in our atmosphere. Although these blooms occur in nature, they are beginning to occur often enough to disrupt life in our oceans that in turn throws off all of the eco-systems present around it.
  • Global Warming – Although this has the ability to be extremely destructive, the immediate effects are almost pleasant if you are not looking at the big picture… You see I believe that global warming will lead to global cooling and will ultimately send us into the next ice age. Let me explain… The gulf stream is a constant movement of water in our oceans that encompasses the earth, it is responsible for climates around the world. Warm water is moved into cooler regions and the cool water is moved into warmer regions balancing the earths climates, if the earth really is warming and our polar ice caps melting than we will eventually experience a massive ice cap melt off that will essentially turn our oceans into “ice-water”. I am not scared of the warming part because I would love to be able to grow plants not suitable for my climate, it’s that pesky ice-age that could be looming around the corner that really gets me worried.
  • Over-population – This my friends… Is the truly scary one… If a horse has the ability to swat a fly off of its back… Imagine what the earth has the ability to do… Think of the events in recent memory that were considered “mass casualty” events, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods all happen for a reason, imagine if that reason was actually “us”! If we become a big enough of a “fly” on the earths back it will eventually lash out in rage and “correct” the problem, maybe then we will finally learn the hard way that we have been given a gift… a gift that essentially comes with no warranty… and a mountain of liability!

As far as I am concerned the most important “weapon” the environmental movement has in its arsenal is the very thing we are fighting to protect, mother nature will do the work for us if we just give her time… we are just attempting to avoid speeding up the inevitable “extinction event” that we will someday experience… Evidence to me that “true species sustainability” is not possible. I believe that although the earth probably does have an expiration date that is un-avoidable, I think it best to not swim in our own shit until the end.

My intention with this post is not to scare, but to educate people on the theory that these natural disasters are less disaster and more like the creation of scar tissue over a wound. The flood is not the problem, the fact that we built-in a place that obviously floods is the problem… Though I say that if you can live with the fact that you may lose everything including your life to be able to live by a stream or lake – a long list that will include me someday… More power to yah! I will have to do a post on the “key-points” of slopes someday as I find building locations on hillsides fascinating…

Respect the things that bite back – chriscondello, sob

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