Andrew Paul 's Profile
Andrew Paul
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Joined:
11/09/2011
Last Updated:
20/09/2011
Location:
Lacombe, AB, Canada
Climate Zone:
Cold Temperate
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Male





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Water harvesting on sandy soils

Posted by Andrew Paul over 7 years ago

Looking for advice where soil water retention, not run-off, is the main design challenge

I have very sandy soil on my site, so run-off is rarely a problem. Excessive soil drainage is. I am increasing the organic content of my soils, but several days of no rain still means drought in my garden/fruit plantings. 

Does anyone have advice for increasing water holding capacity in water harvesting features. I've considered importing some clay to trample into the swales. Any thoughts? Thanks!

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Mari Korhonen
Mari Korhonen : Last year on a weekend workshop we made some "hugelkultur" raised beds, that have wooden material inside. The soil at the site was sandy, and the owner reported this summer that the new garden bed with wood, grass turf, horse manure, old straw, compost and topsoil was the best one in the garden this year. It was just a small experiment, but you can get the idea here http://pohjoinenpermakulttuuri.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/img_2134-e1312391016897.jpg?w=384&h=512 Hope this helps, and good luck!
Posted over 7 years ago

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David Muhl
David Muhl : Hi Andrew, Can you share more information about your site? How big is it? What type of "water harvesting features" are you hoping to use...and what is it you are trying to create?
Posted over 7 years ago

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Andrew Paul
Andrew Paul : Our whole property here in central Alberta, Canada is 160 acres (about 65 hectares). However, my main concern at this point is the house and surrounding yard, which together cover about 4000 square metres. My vegetable garden is about 12 X 24 metres, with a sizeable portion in green manure cover crops each year to build OM. The yard is mostly flat, and we are situated more-or-less on a hilltop. The east portion of the yard slopes slightly downward. That is where we planted our first fruit trees, mainly hardy apple and cherry. I hope to significantly expand fruit plantings and eventually turn a large portion of the yard into food forest. We have already been catching rainwater off the house and a quonset shop, but we do not enough tank space to store it all, and it currently requires a lot of pumping and human labour to get the water where we need it. As we are somewhat short on capital resources, I'm hoping for solutions that are low-cost and low-tech, ideally to improve water storage in the soil itself (the cheapest and most effective option). I am hesitant about expanding our fruit forest until I know it can be watered reliably and with minimal labour. As for the actual water harvesting features, that's what I'm still trying to figure out. Another bit of info: our climate hear is continental, with unpredictable precipitation patterns. Averages in June and July are about 85 mm each, tapering to 60 mm in August. However, dry or wet years are the norm. This year was high moisture until the end of August, with virtually nothing since then. Evaporation also varies. Midsummer average high temps are only 23 deg C, but warm days and dry winds often occur as well. Soil moisture is always high in the spring right after snowmelt, though it can disappear quite quickly in our sand. Thanks so much to everyone for the ideas and discussion so far. Glad winter's coming so I'll have some thinking and planning time before next growing season.
Posted over 7 years ago

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Bryan West
Bryan West : A challenge indeed. For intense zone 1 type items, I would probably go for raised/wicking beds. For general retention, I'd opt for lining depressions (deeply mulched paths/swales etc) with something impervious to slow infiltration and allow for lateral flow of water to the base of adjacent plants' roots.
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David Muhl
David Muhl : If you're just looking to improve the soil and don't currently have the capital to explore some of the ideas expressed here so far, I'd say you're on the right track with the mulching. You mentioned that you get drying winds in the summer...which made me curious if a leguminous windbreak could be planted to cut down the evapotranspiration in the garden area and also act as an on-site mulch source(?). Improving organic content is key, and you might think about adding a calcium source (possibly dolomite) as well, as it will help to build the soil crumb structure you're looking for. I would have a professional soils test done (they're cheap) to determine what other organic amendments you might want to add (and in what amounts) while you're at it.

Drip would be a good idea (as Jason mentioned), although if your garden is close to the same elevation as your water storage tank, and it's not pressurized, you'll have to get creative. Swales lined with clay or plastic are other options for routing water through your site, and perhaps you can add storage ponds (or barrels, cisterns, etc.) out where you'll be using the water.

I wouldn't add any clay with the planting backfill mix...maybe some good topsoil or crushed granite rock dust for minerals. You are probably aware of all the other organic amendments.

Does your property get morning dew? Perhaps you could install condensation collection systems around your trees. Another idea is buried clay pots or PVC watering tubes around each tree (set up for slow release of water) that could be filled by hand, hose, pipe, drip tube, or passively via irrigation ditches.
Posted over 7 years ago

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Type: Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course
Verifying teacher: Rob Avis
Other Teachers: Adrian Buckley
Location: Gull Lake, AB, Canada
Date: Jul 2011

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