Plan a Natural Irrigation System

It is easy to move water across the landscape without pipes or hoses. Natural irrigation simply uses gravity. This video tutorial shows us making an irrigation channel on site. Lets dig in and move the conversation beyond swales and trenches.

We used a simple A frame to map out the contours. Yes, you can buy equipment to do this, but A frames can be made with very little expense. And when you use the A frame regularly you get good at it.

You also get a feel for the slope and have a visual estimation of what you think each contour line should look like. Rowena explained how she saw how the contour hugged the landscape. “Well, I’ve just gotten down low, closer to the the ground so that I can visualize it. I’m visualizing the slope of the land and where the water is running and perhaps where we could capture it. It feels like it’s wrapping around um at the base of a hill.

Moving the topic of swales, trenches and channels along

In previous tutorials I have explained the difference between a trench a ditch. And how a swale is a similar to a ditch that sits perfectly on the contour. It catches water and it allows it to seep deeper into the soil.

On the other hand, a keyline irrigation channel can look almost the same but it it’s used to move the water slowly out from the wetter areas to the drier areas. So, the swale a trench a bit like a long bucket with holes in it we don’t have any plastic lining in it we need to be really precise because the swale sits level on the Contour it catches the water and it allows it to seep through the soil. Sometimes I check if the swale is level and not leaking by filling it with water or checking it on raining days.

Grant Lubyckij testing then re-digging the swales to create irrigation channels at Gillys Kitchen Garden in Otford
Grant Lubyckij testing then re-digging the swales to create irrigation channels

Check and Plug Leakage Points

Rainy days are perfect for checking for leakage points. Sometimes I check if the swale is level by filling it with water or checking it on raining days. Digging a channel requires a little bit of preparation. You don’t just mark the contours. You need to do the mathematics and mark a fall from that contour. [I’ll show you how to do that]. But the good news is that extra bit of preparation means that the irrigation is self-cleaning. This is because as the surface water moves along, it washes out loose debris.

Comparison of Swales and Irrigation channels

Swales hold the water but channels move water from wet gullies to dry ridges. This is a small part of the key line a method that was pioneered by PA Yeomans Snr during the 1950s. His method has rehabilitated many large farms around the world. At the end of the video I showed ways to apply this gravity fed irrigation system to regenerate a site.

Two Ways to Move Water in a Channel

The two ways to use gravity to move water across the landscape are: 1. having the trench with a slightly downhill direction and 2. Digging deeper to get to where you want to go. Grant Lubyckij is re-digging the swales here at Gilly’s Kitchen Garden in Otford. One area of the garden was always dry. We plugged up the leakage point on that garden and Grant re-dug the swale deeper to convert it into a channel and get the water to move in the opposite direction.

Tiffany-HENBURN
Exercise Your Mathematics Mind

Simplified Mathematics for Channel Irrigation

Imagine you’ve walked across the slope of a hill when you walk across the contour. One foot is slightly lower than the other. But, we’re feeling pretty balanced. Whereas, when you walk uphill you can feel pressure in the heel of your boots. And when you walk downhill you’ll feel pressure on the soles of your feet.

A Steep Slope

When we drop downhill by 1 m in height for every meter that we’ve gone across the slope we’re walking down a steep path. Most landscape standards call this a slippery slope and you would be advised to install hand rails, retaining walls and steps prevents people falling.

A 1/3 Slope

Now, let’s imagine you’re walking across open fields going downhill as you walk. You’re walking across a slope but you go down only 2/3 of a meter instead of the whole meter. It still feels like a slope but by landscaping standards it doesn’t require steps or a retaining wall that’s called the 1/3 drop. This is a slope of 30°.

The Goldilocks Slope 15°

We all know that the easiest way to get down a steep hill in a very open space is to go slightly downhill as we travel across. Now imagine you drop downhill by only a third of a meter or yard for every meter that you walk across. This gets us the magical 15° off contour. You feel like you are gently gliding.

This gentle slope is sufficient to enable rain water to travel along without causing erosion.

Overcoming Obstacles

If you find that there are trees or rocks in your way you might need to do a combination of deeper digging and going off contour.

keyline channels and bare garden beds
Grant and Tim market garden

Grant and Tim have now developed a productive market farm using these natural irrigation technique skills.

When we work with nature, we are giving nature a chance to recover and repair.

Learn more about Permaculture with us at PermacultureVisions.com

THE FUTURE OF PERMACULTURE

Permaculture is continually expanding. It is building skills, experience, knowledge, tools, strategies and design thinking. As we learn from and collaborate with nature we get smarter. And we explore systems for a truly sustainable future that allow systems to regenerate. In this interview with Richard Telford, creator of the permaculture principles icons and leading publisher, discusses the future of permaculture.

Interest Changes but our Knowledge Keeps Expanding

Interest in permaculture waxes and wanes with the need for it. During the pandemic there was a really strong need for permaculture. Then it changed. Richard explained “I think people felt Permaculture wasn’t so relevant because the system was coming back together…or it appeared so. People felt, I guess, more secure and then the demand for permaculture.. waned.”

In fact, Permaculture has pioneered many things from compost toilet systems to the powerful Transition Town movement. What will the future bring?

Our Knowhow is growing

Richard continues “the future for Permaculture is brightest when the system is shaky. But I think for people who really want to live a life that’s rewarding. hands-on, connecting with nature and the Earth, and to community then there’s a lot that permaculture has to offer. But I don’t see that the majority of people are particularly interested in that. So, for those of the of us that are on that path it’s fairly steady. And I think we’ll see big fluctuations when the need arises” says Richard.

Resources for a Better Future

But you know we’ve been creating these amazing seed banks and developing these systems for a long time I’ve been doing it for years. There’s a valuable source of information and experience that can be shared with other people when it’s needed when it’s valued.

Give it a Go!

Richard has been a Jack/Jill of all trades. “I built this house and had no idea how to build a house. It was that whole thing about wanting something to happen. And being passionate and making it happen. Even though you don’t know how to do it. And [it’s about ] finding the right people to work with. We’ve got a couple of boys that were home-schooled most of their time when they were younger. And we found the only way they really learn is when they’re interested in something. And I think it’s the same with me. When I’m interested in building a house – I’ll build a house. I restored a car (the old Kombi). I did the fibre-glassing and mechanics and upholstery. And all those things because I wanted to make it happen. And same with creating the permaculture principles website and designing the icons. Any of these things. I was really driven by seeing a need. And I wanted to make that happen.

Stepping Into the Unknown

I feel like I can do anything that I’m really passionate about now. At least give it a really red hot go. So, I really want to encourage people to have a go. The best way to do it is to find somebody local and work with them…. I’ve got a number of different mentors around town. And I ask questions! We used to talk about empowering people helping them feel that they could give it a go. And then people are starting to say ‘oh you know they really need to get an expert for this’.

I think it’s important to be good at something that you can earn a living from. Get really good at something that other people will value. And for everything else – just have a go yourself. Because if you if you don’t have to pay someone else for doing it – often you’ll do a better job. And it’s money you don’t have to earn yourself. And you come out of it with skills and experience. Often, it’s very rewarding.” [Richard Telford]

Step into your better future. Learn more with us at PermacultureVisions.

Permaculture on a Shoestring

Do Permaculture design on a shoestring. Harness natural energies, turn waste into a resource and boost social connections and well being.

A chicken fairy god mother
Be a green fairy god-mother.

10 Permaculture Living Skills on a Shoestring

  1. Live with principles
  2. Get clean energy
  3. Cut the waste
  4. Use resources well
  5. Build biodiversity
  6. Breathe cleaner air
  7. Save water
  8. Creatively Make-do
  9. Invest in Social justice
  10. Start positive

1. Apply Permaculture Principles

Apply Permaculture Principles to Everyday Life. Multiple functions for each element in the design is a key principle. “If I can’t get at least 3 reasons for having something, I’m not having it.” says Permaculture Elder Judith Collins. And then, integrate the elements, so that nothing sits alone in the system. Everything connects and contributes to the other things. For example, the bushes shade the paths. These paths are shaped to direct water. The water nurtures the garden. The garden attracts birds and insects. This give us joy. Then, we share joy and food with others.

This also applies to skills. These skills have many uses beyond the home. They can be applied in the workplace and for the good on your community.

2. Get Smarter Energy

https://www.saulgriffith.com/ promotes electricification for better future universal energy systems

Change to better energy sources such as solar systems. Saul Griffith explains how electrifying our energy network builds better future energy systems for all.

Permaculture Elder, Judith Collins EarthKeepers, Buxton, NSW

3. Cut the Waste – Stop Buying Stuff! And Grow

Judith Collins of EarthKeepers challenges us to know where our food comes. And if you really need to buy something, check out local makers and support the markets rather than so called ‘super-markets’. And farmer Gerard Lawry at EagleRiseFarm points out “There is no co-incidence that the supermarkets present their fresh foods to look like market stalls”.

4. Use Resources Well

Now that you have decided what to waste cut, look to see what other waste materials from the home can be converted. Identify and reduce your waste by conducting a home audit.

If you don’t have much space, you can use Bokashi to convert your food scraps, if you have a balcony, then you have room for a worm farm. If you have a garden, there is room for worms, compost and chickens. Grow food in wicking pots or rain gardens.

Utilise things more by saving the seed from the foods you eat. Get creative by repurposing stuff that you can no longer use. Mend, redesign your clothes. Then when they are finally no longer useful, compost them.

5. Build biodiversity

Design your life to blend with the surrounding wildlife. Build awareness of the natural world. Stop to smell the wildflowers. Find the unique perfumes of native plants. Create space in your domain for wildlife. You don’t need anything, not even a shoestring, to enjoy nature.

6. Cut the Chemicals – Breathe Less Toxins

Stop polluting your home. Cut out chemicals by using low toxic cleaners. You can easily make your own cleaning fluids. In fact, vinegar and sodium bicarbonate will clean nearly everything. Another permaculture principle is to start small so you can feel successful. You can do this right now, in your home. Try sprouts, food and herbs, and making your own vinegar. For outside the home, try minimal disturbance techniques to handle weeds. Get to know how nature works and work with her.

strawberry guava

7. Save Water

Saving water is vital because clean water is a valuable resource during dry periods. Plants and animals depend on clean rain water. So do the river systems. We can contribute to the healthy rivers by building carbon in the soil, planting trees and supporting insect life. A basic start would be to create birdbaths. Next, install rain gardens. Catch and store rainwater in a tank or direct it to a pool. Something that takes a bit more research but is radical and resourceful is to install a compost toilet and an outdoor shower.

redirect path water to reduce erosion

8. Get Creative and Make-Do with Shoestrings

There are various types of waste. And this includes having too much stuff because stuff demands requires storage and maintenance. Other forms include wasted opportunities.

Simple steps to cut waste are to seal out drafts. Mend things like leaking taps or frayed clothes. Learn to use basic tools, how to sew, tie knots and make do.

Use paper mache and old cotton rags in the garden to create swales, cover weeds or feed the worms. Good soil can be created from food scraps and paper waste.

Above all use the shoestrings – walk, cycle and use public transport. These simple steps keep us fit and reject the the fossil fuel industry. Plan to make your next car an electric car.

cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut
cockatoo enjoying a macadamia nut

9. Invest time and effort in others

Invest in a Circular economy by spending your money on products and services that are created locally. This builds social justice. Social justice is a vital part of reducing the pressures on our planet. Without social justice, we get more pollution, more harmful chemical use and more frequent environmental destruction through wars.

Be generous and kind. Fix stuff before you give it to charity. And be generous. Better still, fix things for others. Repair cafes are wonderful ways to link skilled retirees with young people in need. Better still, show a young person how to do stuff. Or help a local family that needs a hand. Have an informal meeting with neighbours and find out what your community needs and has the passion to do.

10. Start Positive, Act Now

Knowing how and where to start is a skill in itself. Stuart Hill recommends we do one thing before we go to bed that will move us closer to our goals. Starting small is one way to achieve this. He encourages us to take action by refreshing our mindset. This enables us to make bigger changes. If it requires us to lie boldly to ourselves about what we can achieve, then do it.

Make Soil – Enrich the World

Dr Sandra Tuszynska, a Soil Restoration Microbiologist, digs the world of soil restoration. In this video she explains how bacteria and fungi consume nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus. And then tiny predators digest the bacteria and fungi and release the nutrients in a form that feeds plants. Good soil enriches the world and creates healthier plants that require less fertilizers. This of course, feeds the us all.

Dr Sandra Tuszynska tells us how to build the right conditions for diverse microbiology, create better worm farms and enjoy richer results.

Dr. Sandra Tuszynska – Soil Restoration Microbiologist explains the relationship between bacteria, fungi and predators which together, release nutrients that feed the world.

What Dr Sandra Tuszynska Tells Us

“My background is in Agricultural Science and I ended up majoring in microbiology because I knew that microbes can literally clean up the mess we’ve made you know pesticides and all kinds of chemical nasty stuff, oil spills. Once I found that out I was like – well agriculture is really actually riddled with with all kinds of chemical treatments that we apply to our soils and our animals and our plants, so what a wonderful way to get into this idea of using microbes to actually clean up the mess we’ve made (deleted and) and go back to the original way that it was designed to function.”

Bacteria feed, clean and heal the soil

Bacteria feed, clean and heal the soil. The same family of organisms that can clean polluted soils, also feeds the plants and provides them immunity.

Oxygen-based Microbiology Secret for Good Soil

“We want our plants to have oxygen-based microbiology around them so that they can create more oxygen and space for the roots to grow in. Because our plants are very much loving of oxygen. Even though they produce it in their leaves and we breathe it in. While they love the carbon we breathe out, they also need their roots to be in a very lovely,  friendly place for them. And that means oxygen needs to be present as well as moisture. And, as well as all their friends on their roots which are the fungi and the bacteria”. There are many benefits in working with these microbial systems and putting them back into our depleted soils.

Bacteria needs air as well as food from minerals and organic matter

Learn With Dr Sandra Tuszynska

Dr Sandra Tuszynska is running a course called soil restoration course. She says “I’m putting all these creatures and their superpowers into each lesson. There are units with several lessons each. They’re quite long and science-y and very meaty in terms of getting people to understand exactly how it all fits together and how it (the soil ecosystem) works. And then I show people how to actually create that for their soils. “

the soil restoration course by givingsoil@gmail.com

How to Boost Micro-Organism Diversity in Your Worm Farm

  1. Instead of simply feeding your food scraps to the worm farm, keep the bottom tap open so any leachates do not fester. This also prevents worms from drowning. You can catch the leachate and pour it onto plants nearby.
  2. Add more carbon. This includes egg shells, torn paper, hair and dog fur and leaf litter. This provides more nutrients and air.
  3. If you don’t have enough food scraps to feed to the worms, then feed them some weeds. Not too many as long as the pile doesn’t get too hot.
  4. Keep the farm moist enough to deter ants and other creatures.
  5. Drill a few tiny air holes into the top

Farm Your Own Microorganisms and Worms

Converting waste into good soil is something everyone of us can do. Create a simple worm farm with a tall, large, bucket with a lid or an old garbage bin. Some council contractors sell old bins. And often you can get large food-safe bins from cafes and restaurants. Recycled bins are much better for the environment and will have less freshly volatile plastics.

Simply drill a few small holes (3mm) in the bottom (for drainage). Add a couple of holes in the lid (for air). Add shredded or torn-up paper and food and enough water to keep it damp. Then, find add native worms.

finding compost worms in leaf litter

Support Our Native Worms

The worms usually sold for worm farms are the easiest worms to manage. But those of us who are skilled at raising worms, can have a go at supporting native worms instead.

Most people buy worms, but there are plenty of worms indigenous to your area, even desert areas have some worms. Research native compost worms because you don’t want to use earthworms. Look in the top layer of leaf litter of gardens. If you can’t find some compost worm, you can often buy Anisochaeta dorsalis worms in fish bait shops!

Getting started is easy and maintaining the system is almost as simple as putting the scraps in the landfill bin. Once the bucket is full, start another one. Eventually you can just tip it back into the garden.

grow your own soil solutions using food waste, worms, fungi and bacteria

Make Your Own Continuous-Flow System

Sandra strongly recommends that we do not disturb the rich mix of bacteria, fungi and worms. The worms don’t just eat the food, they eat the fungi and bacteria on the food. So try not to disturb this invisible microbiology. Simply leave the top 60cm undisturbed and harvest the content from below. This is achieved by either having access at the bottom of the system. In some systems, there is a grid to hold the bulk of the material and you scrape out from underneath this grid. Whereas, other systems, like the hungry bin, are more rate proof. The hungry bin has a funnel shape that compresses the bottom section that you harvest from. But the design needs extra security because the hatch has blown off ours too many times.

In truth, the cost to the environment is drastically reduced if you make a worm-farm in a tall (60cm+) recycled bin. Captain Matt shows how to make a continuous-flow wheelie worm bin.