Sunday, September 18, 2016

Raindrops keep falling

It's been an unusual Spring this year, in that we've had quite regular, but gentle rain. I started to think, this is why people move to the sub-tropics, rather than dry-arid regions, like ours normally is. Everything just bursts out of the ground with the extra moisture. The ants haven't had a chance to move in to our hugelkultur beds, as I feared they might. And they are always moist. I'm eating kale I haven't had to water, since first planting them.

But I can't take such an uncharacteristic windfall for granted either. The things speckled around my yard, might look like junk to some, but they're actually harvesting water for me. In permaculture terms, it's called "catch and store energy".

My morning walk around the garden, with camera and umbrella, will demonstrate a few examples of that principle.

Since converting the vegetable beds to hugelkultur in winter, only a few nasturtiums volunteered from seed. As I wanted to keep those plants for seed saving, I had to devise a way to protect them from brush turkey's. So I put out a few 10 litre ice-cream buckets, with rocks in them, to make them heavy. They were then positioned around the plant.

As a side-effect, they've been catching the rain. When the sun comes out again, I've been tipping them where the plants need it. Since these nasturtiums are near the avocado tree, both are receiving the extra water.

On the retaining wall, our vegetable beds are built on, we have some old guttering. It's earmarked for Hilltop chicken coop, one day, but in the meantime, it catches rain water - somewhat like an artificial swale on a miniature scale. The excess flows on the roots of an African daisy and pot marigold.

When there is only sprinkling rain instead of soaking rain, this is a way to use a "small and slow solution" to pool a resource, and redirect it to where it's needed. This is normally, a very dry corner of the retaining wall. And while the plant selection I've used, will ensure they can survive in these conditions, the guttering is an adaptive design solution, which also solves my storage problem in our limited shed space.

While it may look rusty, we received it that way, for free, from the local refuse tip. But the water isn't left there for long. When the sun comes out again, we tip it back on the plants.

When we removed our passionfruit vine trellis recently, we had an excess of star-pickets to store as well. So why not use their hard surfaces, to redirect rainwater, for us? They are leant against a wire trellis, with their ends positioned around a hollow concrete block. These blocks are porous, so suck up a lot of moisture. All that rainwater however, is directed at the base, giving the seedling I planted in it recently, the opportunity to put its roots down past the concrete block.

In permaculture terms, this is considered "using the edges and valuing the marginal." While it's normally applied to plant guilds, it can be applied to any kind of design system. In this case, I'm using the edges of the star-pickets, to concentrate a water source, to the base of a plant. The star-pickets also add protection, by preventing the brush turkey's from digging out the plant.

We have a few styrafoam boxes, I use for collecting mulch material, at the end of my chipper. It's also left out to collect rain however, and tipped onto the base of the citrus, when the sun comes out again.

While I wouldn't recommend purchasing styrafoam for this purpose, boxes from fruit stores, can be recycled.

An example of a natural design, using the same water exploitation, is the interesting design of the pineapple leaves. It has dozens of gutters, positioned to meet in the centre. So even small precipitation can syphon down to the roots of the plant.  I hope two of our pineapples will fruit this year, and I have another three pineapple tops, I want to propagate as well.

But hard surface run-off, we have plenty of in our industrial reality. Which we should be exploiting, to assist the plants left behind. By using the permaculture principle, "design from patterns to details," we can find more ways to integrate the hard surfaces in our lives, to the value of the environment. Instead of them becoming a detriment and burden to nature.


  1. We have had about 35mm of rain this month. Our dry season doesn't end until around Xmas but this year we have had enough rain to keep everything looking green. So for the first time in forever it really does look like spring has sprung. How do your propagate your pineapple tops? My method of putting some compost in a pot and plopping a pineapple top on the surface does not seem to be working for me. ;-)

    1. Hi Sherri, it's great to have such an abundance of rain in Spring. You've had a healthy dose for September.

      I've spoken about propagating pineapples, a few times on this blog, but I don't think I've actually demonstrated how it's done. Which I'll do this time. It'll take a few days, because there's a period you have to wait, which I'll write about. :)

  2. Rain is so precious! Every drop helps. Unless, of course, one is under a deluge in flooding conditions. Here's hoping for a balanced summer for you.

  3. Hi Leigh, I hope we have a balanced summer too. It's normally our heaviest rain season. Here's hoping some dependable rain, helps to set you up for the fall garden. :)


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