Daily Audio - AKG Sustainable Living Project episode #4 - Rainwater Harvesting

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Sunshine, plants, and baby birds.

It's been chilly the last few days, down to 44F at night and lovely and cool during the day. This was a welcome development after several days of over 80F, not that I'm complaining, the warmth has been delicious. Until this morning we hadn't had a drop of rain since we arrived, which has been great from getting work done but it was pretty dry. Yesterday, I started putting in the first raised bed and the ground is rock hard, admittedly this strip of land, see picture, on the north east side of the house was used as an extra driveway by the last tenant. The plan is to fit 5 beds in there. All my beds will be 8x5 so that I can build an 8x5 chicken coop  to set on top of each in turn.

Meanwhile Jacqui took somewhat of a break from cleaning,  she needed to give her arms and hands a chance to recover from 3 days of vigorous scrubbing, and potted up some of our seedlings. The rest will go in the bed; tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers. We've got cantaloupe, watermelon, and squash for a separate area where they can spread out.

I've also gotten the leaf mold pile up and running. I tossed in some half rotten split logs to help it along.

You'll notice from the pictures just how incredibly white our legs are. As we were walking recently we were accosted by a local gendarme on suspicion of being foreigners. Just the fact that we were walking instead of driving is suspicious enough but no this was due simply ti prejudice. Our white skin gave us away. This type of profiling based on skin color, now the law in Arizona, is heinous in the extreme. I can understand that we might prove a hazard to all the people going by in their tanks (locally known as SUV's) because the extreme whiteness of our skin temporarily blinds them, but that is no excuse for treating us as something special. Fortunately we were able to produce our passports and he let us off with a warning to "get a tan.... and a car" and we were on our merry way, thankful for our freedom as legal, if marginal, people. Of course that never happened but gosh aren't our legs white!

We have a nest with baby cardinals just outside our dining room window. Wonderful!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The AKG Sustainable Living Project podcast episode #4 transcript- Rain Water Harvesting

Here is the transcript for our latest episode for The Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast;

"Hello this is Jacqui and Robb from the sustainable living project. First we’d like to thank Emma for allowing us to contribute to her wonderful podcast and for sending us her book as winners in her birthday plant competition. We are thoroughly enjoying the book, “The Alternative Kitchen Garden- an A to Z”, and highly recommend it to all our readers and listeners. And now on to our contribution for this month.

In our last post we mentioned our plan to create a rainwater harvesting and management system on our site. Why would we do this? The public water system is a surprisingly inexpensive way to get your water when the supply is plentiful and local. One of my instructors on my masters course was adamant that investing money into rainwater harvesting was pointless from an economic perspective as it would never pay itself back, and perhaps in the mountains of west central Wales she is right, I’ve never seen a rainier place.  But this fails to address several issues with public water systems; they use large amounts of fossil fuel generated electricity to pump, purify and process water. They leak vast quantities of this energy rich water. The water they deliver has had a chemical cocktail of treatments added to it to make it “safe” for human consumption, more on that in a moment. In the US, the drinking water in many locations contains rocket fuel from the defense industry, pesticides from industrial agriculture, e coli from concentrated livestock feeding operations, heavy metals from sloppy mining practice, and in may cases is too acid to be safe for long term exposure. And of course there are the obvious inefficiencies of mixing sewage with treated drinking water and then having to clean the whole mess up again. In addition, depletion of ancient aquifers is a looming problem, threatening our future food and energy supplies.

As to chlorine, it is a chemical designed to be antithetical to life. It is used in water for one thing, whether in swimming pools or drinking water, to kill micro-organisms. Perhaps it is the best choice for large municipal water systems but there are many indications that consuming chlorine and its by products, notably trihalomethane, is not good for your immune system.  The basis of healthy soil and thus healthy plants is a thriving, diverse ecosystem of micro-organisms. Thus, chlorine is designed to eradicate the very foundations of healthy soil. Rainwater is better for your plants as it is naturally soft and contains no chlorine. Rainwater can be purified for human consumption without chlorine.

So we have decided to harvest rainwater. Rainfall in Hickory averages around 4 inches per month. However, prior to the current El Nino cycle there were extended drought conditions. Water levels in the reservoirs in the SE fell to historically low levels causing jurisdiction and ownership disputes, threatened hydropower production, and brought on water usage restrictions.

Our property collection area, including the structures, is approximately 14,520 square feet. Assuming normal rainfall patterns return, we can expect 250 to 400 thousand gallons falling on our property per year. A typical household in Hickory NC uses 68,400 gallons per year, not including lawn watering. I’ve seen estimates that 10,000 feet of lawn will require an additional 312,000 gallons per year.

The large amounts of food and biomass we plan to grow would normally be expected to need more than the average lawn for irrigation but we believe that by using sensible permaculture techniques to increase the moisture retaining properties of the soil we can use less. Our demand should easily fall within the supply.

The key is to keep the rainwater from running off the property too quickly. Storage is to be accomplished in three ways: tanks to store clean water for household and garden use fed by rooftop collection, small ponds and reed beds to treat grey water and collect the overflow from the roof, and in ground storage via swales and raised beds with deep, rich soil. A swale is a ditch dug on a contour designed to interrupt run-off and allow water to slowly sink into the soil.

Instead of a single permaculture tip today we’ve got 8 principles of rainwater harvesting from an interview on Sustainable World radio with Brad Lancaster author “Rainwater Harvesting for Dry Climates”. You can find this interview at sustainableworldradio.com in the podcast archive. You’ll probably recognize the permaculture influence in these principles, the book is recommended by many permaculture practitioners.

1. Long thoughtful observation of how water behaves on site.

2. Start at the top of watershed. Our property has a slope to it, so we will need to address water flow from the top of the roof to the bottom of the property.

3. Start small and simple. As the house currently has an asphalt tile roof, we will start by installing water butts on our carport which has a tin roof.

4. Slow it, spread it, sink it. We will be installing swales and terraces on the property to reduce run-off, and to increase absorption and storage.

5. Always plan for overflow as a resource.

6. Maximise living and organic groundcover, no bare earth, no standing water (mosquitoes need 3 days of standing water to breed)

7. Maximise efficiency by stacking functions, for instance: use tanks as thermal mass and use berms on the down side of sales as high and dry paths; also, raise lots of moisture rich plants to cool the property in the summer.

8. Long thoughtful observation. Get the feedback; what works and what doesn’t.

And that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening and remember you can visit us at sustliving.blogspot.com. We’ll leave you with another take on water, slightly edited for brevity, from Sandra Postel, Post Carbon Institute Fellow,

'I think with water there is certainly not a facing of reality yet. It is a major issue that we have to deal with. There is so much we could do with the water that we have to meet our needs in a more efficient and productive way. It is very easy to see how we could save 25% of our water use in most situations if we put our mind to it and planned for that. Each of us has a water footprint, water is in everything we use everyday, embedded water. To the extent we use less paper or buy fewer clothes, and recycle those things when we are through with them, to the extent we move our diets down the food chain, consume less red meat, we shrink our water footprint. Which means we are leaving more water for other people and other species. But only if we get real about the issue and proactive about the solutions.'

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Behold this Compost

Thanks to Organic Consumers Association for this

Quote of the Week

"Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form'd part of a sick person-Yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings, while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch'd eggs,
The new-born of animals appear-the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato's dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk-the lilacs bloom in the door-yards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead."

-Walt Whitman, from the poem "This Compost"

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Video - An Experiment in Back Yard Sustainability

"Peak Moment 51: Tour Scott McGuire's "White Sage Gardens" in the back yard of his rental home -- a demonstration site for suburban sustainability. He ponders, "How might a household produce and preserve a significant portion of its own food supply?" Composting, a water-conserving greenhouse, and seed-saving are all facets of this beautiful work in progress. [http://www.cocreativeliving.com]"

Friday, 26 March 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food revolution, a message from TED

Dear Global TED Community,

I need your help with something. This won't take long... but it's a big deal.

Today, Friday, TED Prize winner Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution comes to America. His show premieres on ABC tonight. The show is *awesome*. If people watch it, it's going to change their lives.

Here's what I need you to do:

  1. If you're in America, please watch or record the show. I promise you won't regret it. Here are the program times. Here's the trailer.
  2. Whether or not you're in the US, please encourage your American friends to watch. Forward this email to at least five people. They will thank you for it.
As a reminder, America, along with much of the rest of the world, is suffering an obesity epidemic. Millions of people are literally in danger of eating themselves to death. Jamie Oliver's food revolution tackles this head on... by helping families rediscover the thrill of delicious, healthy, freshly-cooked food. He is a magnetic spokesman for one of today's most important issues.

Please help make a TED Prize wish come true.

Very best,

Chris Anderson, TED Curator

P.S. While you're at it, please add your name to Jamie's petition. We'd love to get to a million signatures within the next six weeks.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Stinging Nettle, my favorite spring green

This time of year I walk through the local parks and check on my favorite nettle patches. We had a long cold winter this year and the little sprouts are only about 2 inches high, not high enough to escape being wee'ed on by dogs. Though they are tastiest when they are young, particularly picked and eaten raw, due to the dogs I'll have to wait for em to grow a few feet. I pick the top cluster, roll it in my fingers to disarm the sting, and pop it in my mouth, chew it well and always have some water, apple cider, or beer at hand in case a wayward stinging hair sticks in my throat. If you want to avoid the possibility of the sting, wear some gloves and pick the top 6 inches or so and bring em home and cook em like any greens, steam, boil, or saute. MMmm...mmm good!

And they are very good for you.
"People have been using nettles for food, medicine, fiber, and dyes since the Bronze Age. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has a flavor similar to spinach, and is rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, and many minerals including iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium, and sulfur. Nettles also provide chlorophyll and tannin, and they’re a good source of B complex vitamins. Stinging nettle also has high levels of easily absorbed amino acids. They’re ten percent protein—more than any other vegetable. " - Dawn Gifford

Read more from Ms. Gifford over at Farm to Table "Stinging Nettles are good for you"

Friday, 19 March 2010

Farmers Speak: Bust Up Big Ag

"There are 2 million farmers and 300 million consumers in the US. Standing in between are a handful of companies who control how food gets from one side to the other.

In 2010, the USDA and Dept of Justice are holding a series of hearings on this issue -- the matter of corporate concentration in food and agriculture. The first hearing was March 12, in Ankeny, Iowa. The night before, about 250 independent family farmers and community activists gathered for a town hall meeting to share their own experiences with big ag.

For more; www.bustthetrust.org "