Water is the key to life, so it should come as no surprise that water is a fundamental building block in every permaculture design. It is important to understand how to capture, direct, store, and utilize this resource in order to integrate it with other design components. The strategic placement of water elements in correct positions on the landscape cultivates a self-sustaining, low maintenance, resilient system. But how do you build one of these systems? And where do you even start?
Prior to creating water elements, a baseline knowledge of earthworks is needed. Earthworks includes understanding concepts such as slope, aspect, orientation, level, and contour. It also includes usage of surveying equipment, hand tools, and possibly large machinery. Exposure to these topics and tools is necessary to be able to read the potential of land and to develop successful connections among individual elements. Some basic terminology regarding earthworks are:
- Slope: Slope is “rise over run” that many of us encountered during geometry class. Basically, it is the measurement of incline or decline across an area. This is very important to understand with regard to water flow. (It also gave me the answer to my decades old question of, “When will I ever use this in real life?”)
- Aspect: This refers to the directionality of sloped land.
- Orientation: Orientation can be described as, “the position of one object in relation to another object.” An example of this would be orienting the long side of the pond towards the prevailing wind.
- Level: Level means at the same height or depth.
- Contour: This is a line in the landscape or on a map that is at the same elevation.
Once a solid foundation of these land sculpting principles and equipment is attained, the focus can then shift to water elements and their benefits.
Three main water components utilized in many permaculture systems are ponds, swales, and hugelkultur beds. A pond will benefit the system in many ways. This single element has many multifunctional uses and potential connections. Water can be held in a pond at a high point on the land allowing easy integration with gravity fed connections to lower points on the land. A pond could be stocked with fish to increase food security. In addition to the practical reasons, a pond can be included as an oasis of beauty and diversity.
Another water element often used in permaculture design is called a swale. A swale is a ditch dug on contour to passively collect water. Ensuring the bottom of the ditch is level minimizes erosion. This component is used to increase the water table on site by soaking excess water in place. Attaching a swale to pond maximizes the volume of water collected over an area. Swales are widely utilized because they are excellent tree growing systems. Water and nutrients are delivered where the tree roots need them.
A third feature related to water is the practice of burying bulky, woody material in soil and then using that area as a growing space. This concept is known as hugelkultur. It is a low maintenance growing system. “Hugelkultur” is a German word translated to mean “hill or mound culture.” Depending on the size and shape of the mound, this element could reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. The woody material sunk in the soil breaks down releasing nutrient. As the wood decays, micro pockets of air are created, eliminating the need to till the growing space. Hugelkultur is a solution for a growing area receiving too much rainfall. The plants and roots are growing in drier soil above the wood base. Amazingly, hugelkultur is also a solution for a growing area receiving too little rainfall. Over the course of two or three seasons, the woody material sponges up water holding it in place instead of letting it run through. Plant roots go deep into the soil to mine the water held by the decaying wood. A hugelkultur bed, by its very nature, has varied microclimates. Areas near the top are drier, and soil near the bottom is wetter. It also has a sun side and a shade side, generating warm and cool pockets in the soil.
On paper these components and concepts individually may make sense. But how do they come together? How are they built from the soil up? The biggest question is still, “Where do I even begin?”
Paul Wheaton has recorded an earthworks and hugelkultur workshop answering that very question. This workshop starts at the beginning with planning and site analysis, then it expands into functional design, finally demonstrating how to get started. It covers how to avoid common pitfalls, getting shovels in the ground, hurdling challenges, and completion of the system. Paul Wheaton’s Permaculture Earthworks and Hugelkultur Garden 3-DVD Set demonstrates the construction, implementation, and strategy behind the individual concepts and their critical connections. 24 hours of classroom and hands-on workshop content will be condensed into 3 DVDs showcasing how to design for one pond, one swale, and one hugelkultur bed built into a terrace.
Get an excavator-eye view as a pond is built without a pond liner. This style of design mimics a true ecosystem just as Mother Nature would build.
See how real world challenges are identified and designed into or out of the system. Contaminated run-off water from a nearby street flows on to the property. Observe the strategy put in place to mitigate the pollutants while the additional water resource is captured, cleaned, and cycled through the permaculture system.
Time is spent teaching tool usage as well. Learn how to use laser levels around the property to accurately mark elevation.
Hugelkultur design is examined in detail as multiple variations are outlined. The type of wood to use is analyzed. The example hugelkultur bed is built on a terrace and shaped in a sun scoop so that the planting area is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
The 3-DVD set has been set up as a Kickstarter campaign. A Kickstarter campaign is a way for individuals to determine if a project has an audience prior to putting in hours of labor. Community will gauge the value of a project by pledging a monetary amount. If Paul Wheaton’s Kickstarter campaign reaches the goal, then the DVDs will be made. The completion date is set for June 2014.
If you like this sort of thing, you can support Paul here.