Critters Like Our Garden

Rabbit In Garden.JPG

Ann said that something was eating the beans. I put a trail camera in the garden between two raised beds for several days to try to identify the culprit.

This rabbit is able to get through the deer fence to get some fresh garden produce.

Note the temperature at the bottom of the photo – 116 degree!

Blue (our garden cat) caught a rat in the garden about a month ago. We like sharing our food with rabbits, but not rats – a common prejudice.

Some of the beans have been eaten about four feet up on the trellis. The rabbit is not the only visitor.

A garden and a homecooked meal are revolutionary acts

I am very grateful to my wife Ann, whose green thumb provides us with home-grown food which become tasty and healthy homecooked meals. Her blog at Inspired Gardening documents her garden and food preparation.Fresh from the garden

From the Of Two Minds blog, Charles Hugh Smith writes:

…"a garden and a homecooked meal are revolutionary acts." These simple acts are revolutionary because they upend the oppressive regime of agribusiness, packaged/fast food and the sick-care system–all parts in a seamless system of ill-health, derangement, torpor and chronic disease which can be treated with enormously expensive and mostly needless medications and procedures.

This is what I term an integrated understanding of the entire system of growing and consuming food and health. Agribusiness, fast food, high salt, high fat and high sugar processed "foods" (poisons is a more accurate term), chronic illness and various derangements, and an immensely profitable sick-care system are all one. There can be no "solutions" without an integrated understanding that simple behaviors are the heart of any and all real solutions. Buying something "new" is a simulacrum "solution" marketed to reap profits.

The solution to sick-care starts not with 1,000 pages of legislation, paid for with trillons of dollars of borrowed money but with an understanding of the causal connections between gardening, vegetables/food, cooking rather than consuming, self-reliance, goal-directed activity and responsibility for one's health.

Link: oftwominds: Rant or Revelation: My Money's on Revelation

A Glaring Flaw in Economics Dogma Is Being Exposed

More than a century ago, John Muir theorized that ice-age glaciers carved out Yosemite valley into the beautiful rock formations that we see today. Geologists ridiculed him, because he was not trained as a geologist and thus his ideas were heresy. Muir was right, of course, and I doubt that the geologists apologized to him.

Similarly, John Michael Greer is looking at economics from a perspective untainted by economic dogma. He uses organic agriculture, in contrast to industrial agriculture, as his metaphor. He builds on the work of E.F. Schumacher to describe a "primary" economy that is ignored by most economists (which may explain why our economy is such a mess).

I've included some excerpts below in the hope that anyone concerned about future generations  might click on the link below and read the whole essay. And while you are there, read the comments. His audience has some great questions and insight, especially on the topic of  the value of land and organic farming.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Wealth of Nature.

… a society that permits the advantages of ecological abuse to go to individuals, while the costs are shared by the whole society, is effectively subsidizing the destruction of its environment.

…fertile land suitable for growing crops does not simply happen. Like anything else of value, it must be made, and once made, it must be maintained; the only difference is that the laborers that make and maintain it do not happen to be human beings.

Soil suitable for crops, after all, is not simply rock dust. A large part of it – sometimes more than half – is organic matter, some living, some dead but not yet wholly decayed, some dissolved into organic colloids complex enough to give analytical chemists sleepless nights, and all of it is put there by the activity of living things over long periods of time. Energy and raw materials flow through soil, uniting bacteria, fungi, algae, worms, insects, and many other living things into one of the most intricate ecosystems on Earth. Plants participate in and depend on this bewilderingly complex world; they draw water and mineral nutrients from it, and cycle leaves and a wide range of chemical compounds back into it.

The farmer who wants to grow crops is attempting to extract wealth from the underground ecosystem of the soil. She can ignore that, and simply plant and harvest with no attention to the needs of the soil, but the soil will be depleted of nutrients in a few years and her crops will fail. Alternatively, she can replace nutrients with chemical fertilizers, predators with pesticides, and so on; if she does this she will have to use steadily larger doses of chemicals to get the same yields, and when the chemical feedstocks run out – as they eventually will – she will be left with soil too sterile and pest-ridden to grow much of anything. If she wants to fulfill Ricardo’s promise and hand the land on to her grandchildren in the same condition that it came from her grandparents, she will have to provide the things the soil needs for its long-term health. Put another way, she will have to barter with the soil, giving it the things it will accept in exchange for crops.

This is the premise of organic agriculture, of course. It’s a premise that has proven itself over millennia, in the Asian farming regions that inspired the organic pioneers of the early 20th century to devise a more general way of doing the same thing, and over decades, in the farms now using organic methods to get yields roughly comparable to those of chemical agriculture. The organic approach has many dimensions, but one may not have received the importance it deserves. To an organic farmer, land is not a commodity that can be owned but a community with which she interacts, and that community has its own economy on which the farmer’s own economy depends.

The same thing is true of every other form of economic activity, though the dependence on nature may be less obvious in some cases than in others. Behind the human activities that produce secondary goods lie nonhuman activities that produce primary goods – the biological cycles that yield soil fertility, crop pollination, and countless other things; the hydrological cycles that put fresh water into reservoirs and taps; the tectonic processes in the crust that put economically useful metals and minerals into veins in the rocks; and, of central importance just now, the extraordinarily complex interplay of biological and geological processes that stored away countless billions of tons of carbon under the earth’s surface in the form of fossil fuels.

Conventional economics assumes that these things get there by some materialist equivalent of divine fiat. This misstates the situation disastrously. Primary goods are produced by an exact analogue of the way that secondary goods are produced: raw materials are transformed, through labor, using existing capital and energy, to produce goods and services of value. The difference is simply that all this takes place in the nonhuman world. Human beings do not manage the production of primary goods, and the disastrous results of trying to do so suggest that we probably never will; on the other hand, in at least some cases – maltreated farmland is a good example – we can interfere with the production of primary goods, and suffer the consequences.

… The cycles of nature that produce goods needed by human beings constitute the primary economy, while the process by which human beings produce goods is the secondary economy. The secondary economy depends utterly on the primary in at least two ways. First, as discussed last week, something like three-quarters of all economic value in today’s world is produced by nature – that is, by the primary economy – and only around a quarter is produced by human labor. Second, even that quarter is made directly or indirectly from primary goods, and cannot be made at all if the necessary primary goods aren’t there. This is why the attempt to replace a depleted natural resource with something else always involves substitution costs: human labor must be brought in to replace some part of the work previously done by nature, and the costs of that part of the work thus end up having to be paid out of the secondary economy.

We have become so used to thinking of economics as a matter of human labor that it’s probably best to point out that what are sometimes called “primary industries” – farming, mining, and the like – belong to the secondary economy, not the primary one. The primary economy consists wholly of those nonhuman processes that yield economic goods to human beings. Thus a farm and the crops grown on it are part of the secondary economy, while the soil, water, sun, and genetic potential in the seed stock that make the farm and its crops possible are part of the primary economy. In the same way, a mine is part of the secondary economy, while the slow geological processes that put ore in the ground where it can be mined are part of the primary economy. If you examine any human economic activity, you’ll find behind it natural processes that make that activity possible; those processes are the inputs from the primary economy that make the secondary economy possible.

Thus Adam Smith’s dictum cited earlier badly needs reformulation. The product of the natural environment of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessities and conveniences of life; the annual human labor is simply the energy input required to turn some of that product into forms useful for human beings. The wealth of nations, it turns out, is ultimately the wealth of nature, and the sooner the value of natural cycles and primary goods is taken into account, the better chance our descendants will have of avoiding the self-defeating habits that are pushing modern industrial system down the long road to collapse. To do so, however, will require a clear sense of the difference between value and price, or to put matters another way, between wealth and money – the theme of next week’s post.

I recommend that you read the whole essay and comments at this link: The Wealth of Nature.

The Battle over our Food – the Pesticiders Hate Organic Gardens

Jim Hightower provides some political insight into symbolism and lobbyists.

Link: Jim Hightower | SPREADING THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT COAST TO COAST.

What's the number one outdoor activity in America? Not baseball, soccer, jogging or golf. Instead, it's gardening!

I happen to be part of this happy activity. Maintaining a small organic garden in my yard lets me dig in compost, rejoice at ripening tomatoes, clip fresh herbs – and devour the luscious results. So, when Michelle Obama recently planted an organic garden on the White House lawn, I joined gardeners and organic food advocates all across the country in applauding this symbolic stand for good food, the environment, and common sense.

Not everyone joined in the joy, however. An outfit called the Mid American Croplife Association (MACA) was in a full-tilt snit over this "First Garden." MACA is the lobbying front for such pesticide purveyors as Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont – not a bunch that's simpatico with the organic movement. Indeed, MACA executives zipped out an alarmist notice to their members: "Did you hear the news," they asked? "The White House is planning to have an 'organic' garden… The thought of it being organic made [us] shudder."

Well, they'd better get used to shuddering, for political leaders from coast to coast are getting on board with the good food movement. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, for example, is putting an organic garden on the National Mall to encourage visitors to plant their own back home. Also, governors and mayors – from Annapolis to Sacramento – are vying with each other to put in the biggest and best organic gardens. In Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon notes that her plot in front of City Hall is nearly twice as big as the White House garden.

Yes, these are symbolic gestures, but symbolism is a powerful tool for educating the public and affirming the virtues of local, sustainable, non-chemical food production. Spread the word.

"Farms Race: The Obama's White House Garden Has Given Fire to an International Movement," www.alternet.org, May 1, 2009.

"Organic White House Garden Puts Some Conventional Panties in a Twist," www.lavidalocavore.org, March 28, 2009.

"MACA lobbyists and Michelle Obama's garden," Email from Julie S., April 13, 2009.

Building Raised Beds for the Garden

Here are the completed raised beds (except for a watering system). Missy likes being photographed – she's a fox. You can see much more of Ann's garden at www.InspiredGardening.com.

Downhill View Greenery and Missy

Ann and I wanted to expand the food production space in Ann's garden. We decided to remove a row of flowers along the west side of our garden and add four raised beds. I'm the Chief Bed Engineer (CBE) and she's the green thumb. Here's a photo history of the bed building.

I used 12' x 12'' x 2'' yellow pine boards – untreated (it's an organic garden). I brushed two coats of linseed oil on the wood to improve its resistance to rot and termites.

The beds are 24" wide. The most difficult part of the process was leveling the bed boards, since the terrain runs from northwest to southeast.

Our cat Blue inspected the beds after completion. Our cat Missy did soil tests.

Here's the construction process.

Bed 1

Bed 2

Bed 3

Uphill View 4 beds

Uphill View Greenery

Small Farms To Be Regulated Out of Business

The End of Small Farms? What you should know about HR 875, HR 759, NAIS and Monsanto

America's small farmers are under attack through a series of bills presented under the guise of "food safety." I don't want to lose my freedom to grow, buy and eat real foods. Let's fight for our small farmers who not only need our protection and support, but actual freeing from government intrusion, control and harm. http://www.breakthematrix.com/node/34734

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSPEOPLE & SPREAD THE WORD:
** Contact your representatives AND local newspaper: http://www.usalone.net/cgi-bin/oen.cg…
** Another easy way to contact your representatives: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/w…
** Share this video

Sources of Information:
http://breakthematrix.com/node/34557

Urban Homesteaders

Link: YouTube – Homegrown Revolution Trailer: Premiers Wild & Scenic Film Festival Jan 9-11

Homegrown Revolution (2008) is a film short that gives a brief introduction to the Dervaes Family's urban homestead which they call "Path to Freedom." On this tiny city lot, a beautiful and productive oasis was created, producing 6,000 lbs of food annually and is a model of urban sustainability.

Film premiers at the WILD & SCENIC FILM FESTIVAL (Jan 9-11, 2009)

http://www.wildandscenicfilmfestival.org

——About Path to Freedom——

Since the mid 1980s, members of the Dervaes family have steadily worked at transforming their ordinary city lot in Pasadena into a thriving organic micro farm that supplies them with food all year round. These eco-pioneers also run a successful home business providing their surplus produce to local restaurants. Through their adventures in growing and preserving their own food, installing a solar power system, home-brewing biodiesel for fuel, raising backyard farm animals, and learning back-to-basics skills, these modern-day pioneers have revived the old-fashioned spirit of self-reliance and resourcefulness.

Since 2001, their website has inspired hundreds of thousands to take steps towards a sustainable future and has generated a 21st century urban homestead movement.

visit their blog at http://www.urbanhomestead.org/journal

Growing Tomatoes On Your Deck

I haven't tried this technique. My wife's raised bed garden produces enough vegetables - we don't need to use our deck for food production. But perhaps many people could benefit from this low tech solution.

Link: The EarthTainer™.

A Revolutionary Alternative in Container Gardening is now available to all our gardening friends at TomatoFest.com.

Not too many years ago there was abundant space and unlimited water available for gardening. Today, with our postage-stamp size yards and increasingly scarce, rationed water resources, a new paradigm for water management by the home gardener has come to the forefront.

Traditional in-ground planting with "broadcast" watering is highly inefficient, along with creating an unintended weed bed to cope with. Result: higher water bills coupled with back-breaking labor in pulling weeds and constant cultivation. Consider a Hybrid alternative. The demand for multi-use energy sources such as solar and wind, plus the huge growth of dual fuel automobiles has sparked innovation in combining the best of hybrid technologies. The same opportunity for improved efficiency and plant yield exists in new growing environments for the home garden.

Ray Newstead
Ray Newstead
 

Enter Ray Newstead, a home gardener of heirloom tomatoes in Campbell, California. Newstead, a long time Silicon Valley resident and Executive with semiconductor company SMSC, has focused his spare time efforts in designing a "Green" self-contained vegetable growing eco-system dubbed the "EarthTainer". This container-based system combines the traditional soil-based growing cycle with elements of hydroponic moisture delivery to the plants for sustainable, organic gardening.

Unlike manual or drip irrigation top watering, the EarthTainer employs a bottom up, automated watering approach based on the principle of capillary action. Water stored in the lower reservoir is wicked up into the soil much like the wick in a candle draws the liquefied wax upward to the flame. Moisture meets the roots of the plant where the plant "drinks" just as much water as it needs. This water consumption will vary significantly throughout the growing season as the plant produces fruit, and by providing a constant supply of water from the reservoir, the plant can achieve optimal growth and productivity.

Newstead estimates that EarthTainer-grown tomato plants consume 75% less water than is used in conventional in-ground planting, as the "closed-loop" EarthTainer design concentrates 100% of the available water exclusively to the plant, not leaking any to encourage weed growth, nor wasted runoff. Additionally, the moisture barrier top cover reduces a significant moisture loss due to evaporation experienced in traditional in-ground gardening. With the June 4, 2008 Declaration of a statewide drought by the Governor of California, water conservation and efficient use of available water is crucial as uncertainty of future supply grows in magnitude.

EarthTainer gardening can make use of marginal growing space where concrete patios or deck areas may be the only sunny locations available to apartment or condo owners. The portable nature of the EarthTainer allows it to be moved or rotated during the growing season to balance plant growth, which is not possible with in-ground gardening. The container walls make it difficult for ground rodents to "stop in for a snack" and the isolation of the growing compartment inhibits soil-borne insect and disease transmission.

Newstead has found that the soil in the EarthTainer warms up to suitable planting temperature in Springtime one month earlier than his in-ground soil bed, permitting him to plant out in early April. In 2008, his harvest of ripe tomatoes began on May 25. "If there were an Energy-Star rating for garden devices, this design would top the charts", said Gary Ibsen, Founder of the Carmel TomatoFest. "The water saving advantage alone is extremely compelling. With the EarthTainer system , urban gardeners have a new alternative in growing their own quality vegetables."

While you can't buy an EarthTainer anywhere, Newstead has teamed up with Ibsen and his TomatoFest organization (www.tomatofest.com) to create a self-construction guide for download in PDF and video format (see video links below) for those with basic tools skills to make their own. These instructions are provided for you here as "Freeware". As Newstead puts it, "With the global food crisis escalating, I believe that spreading knowledge worldwide of how to build EarthTainer growing systems could help feed hungry people in impoverished areas around the world. Not just heirloom tomatoes, but corn, soybeans, and other high-nutrient crops can be grown."

All we request if you do use these design plans to build your own EarthTainer, is to make a voluntary contribution to the Feed The Children organization www.feedthechildren.org. Cost of purchasing components at Lowes or Home Depot to assemble the base unit runs approximately $23.00 and $18.00 for the optional self-supporting tomato cage system.

Download:

EarthTainer PDF Construction Guide

EarthTainer Construction Videos

You can view the video now or download a higher resolution version of the video for future reference during construction. To download the video right click on the "Download video" link and select "save link/target as".

Chapter 1 – Introduction and Building the EarthTainer   View video,   Download video
Chapter 2 – Assembling the Cage System   View video,   Download video
Chapter 3 – Planting   View video,   Download video

Practical Capitalism

Here's an excerpt from an essay by Eric Andrews that suggests how to adapt to a world characterized by overspending governments, boom and bust economies, deflation and inflation, greed, and shortages.

Link: oftwominds.com Readers Journal-Eric Andrews 12/29/08

Real, useful capitalism requires not a response to the belated price signal but visionary action. And since it is already too late to alter large, long-term issues at the Governmental level—say, mass transit, zero-energy homes, or building the transmission and generation capacity to support wind-fueled electric cars—the best any of us can do is to think ahead to make sure that we ourselves are insulated from unnecessary trouble. That is to say, if you want pickled herring on Friday, would you save in strawberry jam and hope to trade? So if you want a retirement that includes food, energy, and security, wouldn't it make more sense to invest directly in those things? The working of the price signal depends on somebody else thinking ahead and saving for you, anticipating what you may need and making it. But we already know those needs will not be met in the macro sense. So if you want them and want them reliably, shouldn't you buy them now while they're cheap? Things such as a low-energy/low money input house. Things such as ways to provide and produce your own food: a greenhouse, a mushroom log, a garden, a chicken coop. Perhaps become a marginal producer of energy with investment in wind, PV, or whatever other creative solution takes your fancy. As you will have far less to buy later, higher prices and shortages will have less effect on you while the yearly savings of non-buying accrue year after year. You thereby use your retirement savings far more wisely, with far more certainty and control.

Harvesting Rainwater

Eight Principles for Harvesting Rainwater from Brad Lancaster.

Brad Lancaster is a permaculture expert and consultant based in Tucson. His
award-winning book Rainwater
Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume I: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain
into your Life and Landscape
(2006, Rainsource Press) and Rainwater
Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2: Water-Harvesting Earthworks

are available on the web at www.HarvestingRainwater.com and at
amazon.com.
This website also contains a bounty of free information, image, video, and audio
resources.

Lancaster Residence Food Production

Link: The Oil Drum | Abundant Skies: 8 Principles for Successful Rainwater Harvesting.

Principle #1: Begin with long and thoughtful observation.
Right after we bought the house, monsoon rains poured from the sky. Rodd and I got acquainted with where where runoff pooled against the house and how the bulk of the rain ran off our site into the street. We mapped these observations, and others, including noise, head¬lights, and pollution from the street; where we wanted privacy; where we needed shade; and where we needed to enhance winter solar exposure. Wherever you direct rainwater in your landscape, you will be nurturing plant life, so take the time to make ensure this vegetation is part of your overall plan.

Next, calculate the rainwater resources available within your site’s “watershed.” For us, that area included not only the 12 inches of annual rainfall on our roof and 1/8th of an acre property, but the 20 foot wide public right-of-way adjoining our property, the section of street draining past the right-of-way, and the runoff from our neighbor’s roof. (See Table, below) This totaled about 104,600 gallons (397,000 liters) of rainwater in an average year!

Principle #2: Start harvesting rain at the top of your watershed, then work your way down.
In most cases, the top of your watershed means the roof of your house.

Our leaky
asphalt roof was a mess, so we removed it and installed 26-gauge
galvanized steel metal roofing instead, which harvests rainwater in a
potable form. However, as long as you’re only harvesting rainwater for
use in landscape irrigation, this isn’t a necessary step. (Rainwater
harvested off a conventional asphalt roof can also be made safe for
consumption with the installation of an appropriate water filtration
system.)

Take a look at your roof. Where do the gutters drain? Where is
rainfall currently being directed? This is where you should begin with
mulched water-harvesting basins and plantings (at least 10 feet from
the building’s foundation.) On our property, just under half of the
roof runoff is directed to earthworks and fruit trees north of the
house. The rest is directed to an above-ground cistern west of the
garden along our property boundary on top of a 2-foot (60 cm) high
earthen platform.

Our cistern is a custom-modified new ferro-cement septic tank, but a
number of good alternatives exist. (See, Choosing a Tank.) We selected
the location of our cistern to provide multiple functions. By placing
it on the western boundary of our yard to shadeing out the hot
afternoon sun, it creates a beneficial microclimate for our garden. By
acting as part of the property line, it provides a privacy screen from
a peering neighbor. And by placing the cistern on an elevated platform,
the system utilizes gravity in circulating water from the roof’s gutter
to the tank, and from the tank to the garden.

Whatever type of cistern you choose, having your garden located
nearby will keep hose length to a minimum (25 ft. ideal) This will
reduce water-pressure loss to surface-friction inside the hose and make
watering with rainwater a convenience. (Your plants will love it too!)

Principle #3: Always plan an overflow route, and manage overflow as a resource.
Eventually, all water-harvesting systems will meet a storm that exceeds
their capacity, so don’t get taken by surprise. All rainwater
harvesting structures should be managed in such a way that the system
can overflow in a beneficial, rather than destructive way.

In that spirit, overflow from our backyard cistern is directed via a
4-inch diameter overflow pipe gutters to a series of adjoining mulched
basins that passively irrigate a citrus tree and our garden. In
addition, all of our sunken earthworks have an overflow “spillway.”
Typically, one earthwork overflows to another and another, until all
are full and then, if needed, the lowest earthwork can overflow to a
natural drainage–-or, in a typical urban context, the street.

Your goal should be to harvest the rain, but never get flooded by it. This is key.

4. Start with small and simple strategies that harvest the rain as close as possible to where it falls.
When people think of rainwater harvesting, usually it’s cisterns and
tanks that spring to mind. But the water collected off your roof is
typically much less than what’s actually falling on your property.
Simple water-harvesting earthworks, such as basins, terraces, contour
berms, and check dams will harvest the rain where it falls, on the land.

The water-harvesting earthworks Rodd and I created collect the vast
majority of our rain. We dug level-bottomed basins and deeply mulched
them (about 4 inches) in order to infiltrate rainfall and runoff
throughout our watershed—once again starting at the highest points of
the yard and working down. Overflow water was directed from the upper
basins to the lower basins, which brings us to principle number five.

5. Spread, slow and infiltrate the flow of water into the soil.
Cisterns along with mulched and vegetated earthworks basins with
overflow routes will effectively transform your erosive runoff during
heavy rainfall into a calm, productive resource while reducing water
loss to evaporation and downstream flooding.

Raised pathways and gathering areas are also a great strategy for
spreading water through the landscape. This pattern of “high and dry”
regions that drain to adjoining basins kept “sunken and moist” will
help to define those areas through vegetation while spreading and
sinking the flow of water. (This also helps keep ice off walkways and
driveways in colder regions.) At our place, we also used earthworks to
redirect the runoff that used to pool against our house to planting
areas 10 feet or more away from the building’s foundation.

6. Maximize living and organic groundcover.
All your basins and other water-harvesting earthworks should be well
mulched and planted. This creates a “living sponge” effect that will
utilize the harvested water to create food and beauty in your
surrounding landscape while steadily improving the soil’s ability to
infiltrate and hold water due to the vast network of growing roots and
beneficial micro-organisms.

Groundcover is equally important in helping to ensure that, in your
enthusiasm for harvesting rainwater, you don’t wind up creating a haven
for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes need three days of standing water to
transform from eggs to adults. Water-harvesting earthworks allowing
water to infiltrate below the surface of the soil (typically within one
hour) where it won’t be lost to evaporation.

Take a hike in the natural unmanaged areas near your home to
determine what native vegetation would be best to plant within or
beside your earthworks. Out in the wild, you’ll notice which plants
grow naturally in depressions – they can be planted within your basins.
Wild plants preferring better drainage can be planted beside, but not
within earthworks.

Blue palo verdes, velvet mesquite, chuparosa, oreganillo, and desert
lavender are a few of the native plants found along the ephemeral
washes in our area of Tucson that we plant within our earthworks.

7. Maximize beneficial relationships and efficiency by “stacking functions.”
As mentioned previously, water-harvesting strategies offer maximum
benefits when they’re integrated into a comprehensive overall siteplan.
We focused on locating the earthworks where we wanted to stack
functions with multi-use vegetation.

Through rainwater harvesting earthworks, we’ve nurtured a solar arc
of deciduous trees on the east, north, and west sides of our home that
cool us in the summer, but let in the free light and warmth of the sun
in winter. A living fence of native plants along the property line
(along with an existing citrus tree) form part of a sun trap. This
suntrap shades our garden from the afternoon sun, creates on-site
stormwater control, and enhances habitat for native songbirds and
butterflies.

The Big Picture
Within our generative landscape, rainwater has become our primary water
source, greywater our secondary water source, and municipal groundwater
a strictly and infrequently used supplemental source (meeting no more
than 5% of our exterior water needs). Most of our established landscape
has even become regenerative by thriving on rainwater alone.

Our household consumes less than 20,000 gallons of municipal water
annually, with over 90% of that being recycled in the landscape as
greywater. Additionally, we harvest and infiltrate over 100,000 gallons
of rain and runoff into the soil of our site (and, by extension, the
community’s watershed) over the course of our annual average rainfall.

As a household, we’re shifting more and more to living within our
rainwater “budget”: the natural limits of our local environment. As a
result, we’re enriching the land, growing up to 25% of our food on
site, creating a beautiful home and neighborhood environment – and
giving back more than we take!

The further we go, the easier and more fun it gets, which brings us to the eighth and last principle:

8.  Continually reassess your system and improve it.
Three years ago, Rodd and I set up an outdoor shower so the bather
could either use pressurized municipal water at the showerhead or
cistern water distributed from a shower bucket on a hook. Other
strategies have included a solar-powered greywater “laundromat” in our
backyard (utilized by seven neighboring households) along with a
reduction in impermeable hardscape by replacing our asphalt driveway
with lush plantings and earthworks.

One of our most rewarding recent improvements has been the process
of working with our neighbors and the city to replace 26% of the
pavement from the corner intersection with a water-harvesting traffic
circle planted with native vegetation. We also succeeded in
implementing a system that harvests street runoff within curbside
mulched basins to grow a greenbelt of trees along the street and
sidewalk, so the street now passively irrigates the trees.

As a result, our neighborhood—once the victim of urban blight—is now one of the greenest and most livable areas of the city.

My advice to anyone who wants to get started living more sustainably
is to start with rainwater-harvesting. Start at the top. Start small.
But above all—start!

Sidebar: Choosing a Rainwater Cistern
Our cistern has a 1,200-gallon (4,560 liter) capacity. We selected this
size after calculating the average annual roof runoff, assessing our
water needs, and determining the resources we wanted to commit to the
system. We opted for a precast concrete septic tank for a number of
reasons, but primarily because it was affordable as well as a workable
size and shape for our space (5 foot wide, 6 feet tall, 10 feet long).

Our septic tank was custom-made for use as a cistern, and further
reinforced for above-ground installation. The cost back in 1996 was
$600, which included delivery and placement. It’s been working great
ever since.

Other options for pre-manufactured cisterns include light-free dark
green or black polyurethane plastic, corrugated metal, and fiberglass.
See www.watertanks.com for options and look in the yellow pages under tanks for local suppliers.

Calculating Your Rainwater Resources
To calculate the volume of rain falling in an average year on a
specific surface such as your roof, yard, or neighborhood, use the
following calculation: CATCHMENT AREA (in square feet) multiplied by
the AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL (in feet) multiplied by 7.48 (to convert
cubic feet to gallons) equals the TOTAL RAINWATER FALLING ON THAT
CATCHMENT IN AN AVERAGE YEAR: CATCHMENT AREA (ft2) x RAINFALL (ft) x
7.48 gal/ft3 = TOTAL AVAILABLE RAINWATER (gal/year).