Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Please Sign-Up for My Water Harvesting Class

Here are the basics essentials:

Who? Nate Downey with Megan Zeigler (505-424-4444 or 690-7939)
What? “Practical Permaculture: Water on the Land”
When? Saturday, March 19 and/or Sunday March 20
Where? EcoVersity, 2399 Agua Fria (505-424-9797)
Why? To learn how to harvest and conserve water
How? Sign-up by contacting EcoVersity at 505-424-9797 or at www.ecoversity.org
How much? Cost is $54 for one day; $95 for both

Here are more details:

A deluge of water harvesting techniques will be the bounty for participants at a weekend workshop at EcoVersity led by local columnist-landscaper, Nate Downey, on March 19 and 20. The focus on Saturday of “Practical Permaculture: Water on the Land” will be passive rainwater harvesting techniques including mulch, swales, gabions, deep-pipe irrigation, pumice wicks, and more. On Sunday, the group will explore gray water, black water, and cisterns. People can take either or both days.

Twelve years ago Nate Downey, whose monthly column on these same topics appears in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s “Real Estate Guide”, started Santa Fe Permaculture, an ecological landscape design and installation company. He has taught this class as a one-day workshop many times before but is looking forward this expanded, two-day version, which will blend hands-on activities and detailed descriptions with lively discussion and helpful handouts.

“With all this rain and snow this winter, it’s hard to know if people will be as interested in water harvesting this spring as they have been in the past,” Downey said. “But my guess is that the last few dry years will be remembered for a good long time regardless of any moisture we get in the short term,” he said.

EcoVersity, at 2639 Agua Fria St. near Maes Road, is a community education center offering land-based classes and workshops in all aspects of sustainability and natural living. It was founded in 1999 by the late, local activist Fiz Harwood, whose vision of creating a place from which to spread ecological wisdom continues to take root in the Santa Fe community. Call EcoVersity at 424-9797 or visit www.ecoversity.org for more information or to sign up for classes. The cost of Downey’s workshop is $54 for either of the days or $95 for the whole weekend.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Planning Our Land Whenever We Can

With Liam playing over at the neighbor's house for an hour, Melissa and I worked out more specifics about where the chickens will go (behind studio), where the graywater outlet for the cottonwood tree will go, where the perennial borders and annual beds would go and much, much more.

Recycle GRAYWATER to conserve water resource (My December 1999 REG Column)

Most people living in sunny New Mexico have no choice but to limit the water they use. Water bills and covenants, not to mention our consciences, demand that we find alternatives to this draining problem.
One alternative is to use gray water for plants and trees in the landscape. In so doing we apply permaculture’s Law of Return, which states that nature demands payment for that which we take from her. Rather than merely taking water out of the aquifer until it runs dry, we can decide to reduce our use and nurture the landscape (with this nutrient-rich resource) in the process.
In the broadest sense the term gray water refers to waste water, except for toilet water (black water), that flows down household drains. Although safely using gray water is not rocket science, mistakes can be very dangerous. Due to the difficulty of filtering disease-laden fats, oils and grease, waste water from kitchen drains should not be used.
Laundry machine water can be used as long as diapers, liquid fabric softeners and pollutants such as gasoline are not included. Waste water from showers and tubs is also an acceptable source. Bathroom sinks are generally viewed as the safest sources of gray water.
For health reasons, gray water should not be used above ground. This makes it incompatible with spraying on lawns. The resource is usually used in trenches filled with gravel or pumice. In 1994 California made the use of gray water legal in drip irrigation tubing – as long as it is buried nine inches underground.
One of the best references I have found on the subject of installing gray water systems is Robert Kourik’s Gray Water Use in the Landscape (Metaphoric Press, 1988). The Cooperative Extension Service and the New Mexico Environment Department also have valuable information regarding the safety and legality of using gray water.
It is legal to divert gray water to your landscape in New Mexico. Unfortuna-tely, it’s not an easy or inexpensive undertaking for law-abiding citizens. In fact the legal on-site treatment of gray water is only slightly less expensive than the on-site treatment of black water.
According to our state’s liquid waste disposal regulations, gray water must first pass through an entirely separate septic tank before entering one of several approved filtration and dispersal systems. Variances can be granted by the state Environment Department, but these are not often obtained.
The conservative stance that New Mexico currently takes is understandable. No one wants to put people or the natural environment in risky or hazardous situations. But as water rights become increasingly expensive, hopefully our state will look to the successes of other jurisdictions such as the state of California and the city of Tucson, Ariz.
There is also an unrelated bureaucratic obstacle for residents hooked up to municipal sewer systems. There will likely be objections from city officials who long ago realized that their treatment facilities will not function if too many people divert gray water from the sewer. The reason for this is that if facilities were forced to treat a greater percentage of black water, at some point there would not be enough liquid effluent to dilute the excess solids.
Fortunately, as is often pointed out in this column, “the problem is the solution.” The solution is not to make gray water illegal in municipalities but to encourage the installation of composting toilets, which would reduce the quantity of solid wastes at sewage treatment facilities. This would help the environment and municipal budgets.
As we soon leave this hot, dry fall-winter of 1999 in the dust, the bottom line is that we will need to come up with some alternatives to our water woes. Gray water recycling is one such alternative that needs strong public support as well as intrepid and visionary regulatory action.

Developer's Task: See SOLUTION in Problem (My November 1999 REG Column)

Certain inevitable forces flow through real estate. Some are natural forces, elements of the physical environment such as stormwater, wind, sunlight and soil structure. Cultural forces – vehicles, pedestrians and utility lines are examples – are generated by humans.
Just as individual landowners can increase their property’s value by applying permaculture principles, developers can improve on their investments by designing communities that work with these inevitable forces.
When developers regard such forces as solutions to problems rather than as nuisances, everyone benefits. The result is enhanced when the solutions are integrated in a mutually beneficial manner. This integration applies the permaculture principle, “cooperation, not competition, is the key to sustainability.”
Especially here in the arid southwest, natural forces are best understood as potential resources. Too often developers think of stormwater as a waste product that should be directed as quickly as possible away from homes and roads. Imagine how much more beautiful and comfortable our subdivisions would be if stormwater was given a chance to percolate into the local soil.
Perhaps the solution to the “problem” of our strong winds could be a windbreak of properly placed trees and shrubs. The solution to our relentless sun could be a system of well-situated shade trees, and the solution to the fragile, dry dirt left behind by development could be a heavily-mulched soil that supports native grasses and wildflowers.
Imagine stormwater directed to our windbreaks and shade trees, which in turn would provide protective microclimates for healthy grass and flowers.
Especially now, as we turn the corner of a new millennium, cultural forces, (like natural forces) are best understood as elements that enhance, rather than hinder, the quality of life in our communities. Too often we demand too much space for our motor vehicles and not enough access for alternative forms of transportation. Imagine how much happier and healthier we would be if we had plenty of bike paths and safe sidewalks and easy access to reliable public transportation,
Perhaps the solution to high heating bills could be an increased number of passive solar homes; and to high crime rates could be more eyes on the street (as opposed to closed garage doors). Perhaps developments could even address psychological problems by encouraging positive interaction among neighbors.
Imagine further that these cultural solutions were intelligently integrated in a synergistic system. Our relationships to our cars would become less of a priority in our lives than our personal relationships, and these would allow us to feel safer and more comfortable at home.
The main difficulty with this approach, which is essentially the approach of the New Urbanism/anti-urban sprawl movement, is another cultural force: the marketplace. Developers do not have the luxury of waiting very long for a positive return on their investments. Even though the payoffs of New Urbanism are greater in the long run, the up-front costs will be higher, especially when one figures in the amount of time necessary to educate bankers, bureaucrats, regulators and consumers.
It is up to us, as citizens and consumers, to encourage developers, planners, regulators and bankers to provide sensible alternatives to urban sprawl. If we believe that we would be better off living in communities that work with (not against) the inevitable forces that effect development, we should empower ourselves by voicing our opinions firmly and consistently.
Eventually more and more forward-thinking “powers that be” will recognize the great economic potential inherent in communities that are ecologically and socially conscious.

Try HAWK POLE for Rabbit, Gopher Deterrence (My September 1999 REG Column)

After a summer of serious monsoons, harvest time should be a happy time here in the arid Southwest. But when our feral friends feed on the lion's share of our landscape's bounty, early autumn is rarely very blissful.
When deer, rabbits, gophers and other fauna threaten our plants and trees, we usually choose between one of two options. We either encourage them to find food elsewhere, or we exterminate the beasts of burden.
Fortunately, there is a third option that has worked successfully around Santa Fe not only in reducing rabbit and gopher damage, but in increasing local raptor populations. It's called a hawk pole.
Hawk poles serve as the bird of prey equivalent of a drive-thru restaurant. Picture the busy intersection of Rodent and Rhubarb. A hawk pulls up, waits, and finally decides whether to pick up a field mouse appetizer, go for a gopher, or maybe move straight to a supersized rabbit meal big enough to share with the whole family.
Hawk poles are tall posts that stand a minimum of 12 feet (15 feet is better) above the tallest vegetation in a particular area. In order to install your own hawk pole, first dig a hole in the ground deep enough to support the top-heavy pressure of your chosen pole. Second, while the pole is laying on the ground drill two holes in the top end and stick branches in the holes to function as perches. Finally, place the pole in the ground and tamp any loose dirt at the base of the pole until fully compacted.
Be careful. As pole heights increase, so do the dangers of installation. Where local piñon and junipers have reached maturity, putting up posts that tower over the trees is not easy. Also make sure that your chosen location is not too close to any structures or places where people typically congregate.
As far as encouraging animals to find food elsewhere, the best deterrents are fences. Keep in mind that deer are high jumpers (not long jumpers), so angling the top of your fence toward their habitat will give the deer a longer, more difficult jump. This method also helps to deter rabbits. However, as with all burrowing animals, make sure that your fence is buried at least 18 inches deep. It also helps if the buried part of the fence can be installed so that it slopes upward.
If fencing a large property does not fit within your budget, consider fencing individual plants and saplings until they become tough enough to withstand occasional nibbling. When birds are a problem, fencing your fruit trees and gardens from above can be accomplished easily with bird netting.
Other benign ways of deterring animals from your landscape include sprinkling various substances such as blood meal, human hair and human urine around the flora that you desire to protect, leaving a radio on in your garden for deer, setting clackers that drive gophers batty, and of course there's always the pain-free, catch-and-release trap for rabbits and other small mammals.
As a last resort, exterminating our furry friends may be justified in extreme cases of plant or tree loss. Painful traps, toxic poisons and noxious gases can be purchased locally, but each method poses safety risks and/or ecological problems.
From a purely permacultural perspective one could kill, prepare and eat (or otherwise utilize) such an animal before killing it. In this way the animal at least returns to the system through a positive process, not a wasteful one.
Of course, most of us have grown so accustomed to prepackaged food that eating wild rabbits is nearly as rare as riding in covered wagons. For this reason it makes sense for most folks to leave the killing up to the raptors, and work on the preventative methods listed above.

BEAUTY and ETHICS at Play in Landscaping (My August 1999 REG Column)

Permaculture’s greatest contribution to landscaping and perhaps to all of human culture is its ability to enhance our understanding of beauty.
Beauty is often something we see, smell, taste, listen to or touch. But we are attracted to ideas and feelings, too. Efficient cars seduce us. Productive businesses lure us in. People who seem to be ethical (or at least agree with our understanding of ethics) appeal to our higher selves.
Undeniably, there is a form of beauty that resides outside the five physical senses in our thoughts and emotions.
As a design science founded in ethics and having efficiency as its method and productivity as its goal, permaculture excites an understanding of a deeper sense of aesthetics. Physical beauty is not unimportant in permaculture, but permaculture also attempts to attract people to the land on a variety of other levels.
Take two common plants: the rose and the raspberry. Most people would say that the rose is more attractive than the raspberry. More often than not, from a purely visual (or aromatic) perspective, this is true. If, however, we give more credence to our taste buds, most of us would find the raspberry more attractive.
If we enhance our understanding of beauty to include the attractive quality of an ethic based on earthcare and its corollary, care for people (as permaculture does) the raspberry would often be viewed as a more attractive landscape element than the rose.
As a food source, raspberry plants provide us with a way to tread more lightly on our planet’s ecosystems and can make our lives happier and healthier.
All edible plants that become part of the local landscape give us an attractive opportunity. Rather than depending on the wasteful and polluting systems of modern agriculture (not to mention all of the associated transportation and packaging costs), edible plants can be consumed locally with no negative costs to the environment. As people become increasingly interested in ecological issues, the attractiveness of edible plants becomes increasingly apparent.
Edible plants, incorporated into the ornamental landscape, also have the attractive effect of making life easier for people. Although there is always some work associated with consuming food from one’s landscape, the work associated with food bought at the grocery store is far greater when one considers the cost of the product, the cost of driving to and from the store, as well as the time wasted while doing such errands. This convenient attribute of edible plants is further enhanced for those who find that their daily levels of stress to be reduced by puttering in the garden.
In addition to having these convenient and stress-relieving qualities, most people are aware that local produce grown without pesticides will enhance the quality of their lives from a wellness perspective. Not only can food become contaminated by chemicals it absorbs, but produce loses nutrients as time passes between harvest and consumption. Moreover, it just tastes better.
Changing a culture’s aesthetic understanding is a slow process. Although I have promoted the use of edible plants for years, I have suggested planting many more roses than raspberries. Sometimes the intrinsic, physical beauty of a thing is simply overwhelming. Other times it is best to work within the existing aesthetic in order have an opportunity to incorporate a new one.
The importance of this new aesthetic, however, should not be underestimated. As we become more and more dependent on an international web of food production and distribution, we become more and more susceptible to problems outside of our control. It is this new, expanded understanding of beauty that may be the key to reducing this unhealthy level of dependency.

MULCH to Retain Moisture for Your Plants (My July 1999 REG Column)

After an unusually hot and dry winter and an extremely windy spring, finally Northern New Mexico has been blessed with the kind of nasty weather that locals can easily appreciate: rain!
Ten straight days of intermittent showers could signify the start of a wonderfully wet monsoon season. On the other hand, it could merely be reminiscent of last October when a couple of snowstorms had people predicting a wet winter.
Unfortunately, at this stage in meteorology's evolution long range weather forecasting looks a lot like surgery back when it was practiced by barbers and blacksmiths. The fact is that accurate long term predictions are usually just lucky guesses. Who can say whether the recent rains are a last "hurrah!" before a record drought or whether it is time to start building another ark.
Since one never knows when the next catastrophic event (or series of events) will come, wise land stewards take into account potential extremes as opposed to statistical averages. In the case of rainfall, we should consider Santa Fe's average of 12 inches per year to be less important than the years when we receive less than five or more than 20 inches of precipitation.
In permacultural terms this is called "designing for catastrophe". In layman's terms it is called overkill (until the big storm or serious drought comes along).
One of the easiest ways to prepare for extreme levels of precipitation is to lay down a thick blanket of mulch around plants and trees and on bare or unhealthy patches of soil. Mulch is any material that you place on the earth's surface which improves the soil's ability to support life. Straw, bark, compost and gravel are the most frequently used mulching materials.
One increasing popular product is the biodegradable erosion control blanket, a long roll of straw sandwiched between a coconut or jute mesh. Typically these blankets are unrolled over areas where seeds have been sown, then they are tacked down with long metal staples.
During extended periods of drought, mulch will retain moisture, prevent evaporation and create a microclimate for beneficial insects. During strong monsoons, mulch will control soil erosion by lessening the impact of precipitation and by reducing the powerful forces of sheet flow and head cutting.
One excellent reason to mulch is that the process illustrates the greatest of all permaculture principles, namely, "work is pollution." Since most mulch materials are light, inexpensive and easy to install, the energy output associated with mulching is minimal, while the payback is enormous.
By simply spreading a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch (preferably on top of a 12-sheet layer of newspaper or a standard weed barrier), the conditions become ripe for natural processes to effectively do chores such as watering, tilling, fertilizing and weeding.
The time to mulch is now. Not that there's anything wrong with mulching throughout the four seasons. An annual roadside crop of garbage bags full of freshly raked leaves makes autumn an inexpensive time to mulch. Blankets of bark work wonders by keeping root systems warm in winter. And in spring a layer of straw "books," or "flakes," laid on the land helps prevent the damaging effects of our relentless wind.
But right now, with the impending possibility of summer storms and the intensified evaporation caused by the summer sun, mulching should be at the top any responsible landowner's list of priorities. Without mulch precious rainwater is wasted and whatever moisture that remains in the soil is lost to evaporation. Without mulch valuable flora withers and precious real estate washes away.

Understanding FIRE Sparks Smart Choices (My June 1999 REG Column)

A record-breaking fire season is entirely possible this year, according to many local experts. Already several blazes in the bosques near Albuquerque have threatened large sections of urban sprawl. In May an inferno near Ruidoso forced some families to evacuate their homes.
In a land where fire is a given, the burning question for property owners should be: how can I protect myself, my family and my investment?
The best way to prevent damage to property is to not build in fire’s probable path. Heat rises, so ridgetops are risky. Trees with high sap content burn more furiously than other types of vegetation, so dense conifer stands can be dangerous. Slopes that face the southwest are more fire-prone than those that face north and east.
Most people looking for homes and land find it difficult to make fire damage prevention a high priority. More immediate enticements such as “panoramic views” and “a wooded retreat” usually prevail during the purchasing process. Once you have your home, there are several techniques that can minimize forest-fire damage.
Ben Haggard, a permaculture consultant with Regenesis, a locally based ecological design and development company, has had first-hand experience with designing a successful fire prevention strategy. In the early 1990s Haggard was part of a team that began to reduce fire danger around the main buildings at the Lama Foundation in Lama, N.M. One day during the summer of 1996 his strategy was put to the test during the Hondo Fire.
The strategy prevailed because of three strategies: re-routing the road along Lama’s fire sector such that it became a double fire break; creating moist microclimates in on-contour swales; and concentrating irrigated plantings around buildings. As Haggard predicted, buildings situated outside the focus of the design were almost entirely destroyed, but buildings being protected by the implemented design survived the catastrophe completely unscathed.
Now, even though the forest will take decades to recover to the point that such a disaster could happen again, new construction at Lama is always sited properly. More fire-retardant features are being situated in the fire sector. And runoff water from roofs is consistently put to use with the threat of fire in mind.
Although Haggard insists that site selection is the key to fire-damage prevention, he does encourage architects, builders and homeowners to become more fire conscious by using fire retardant materials and reducing overhangs, decks and balconies.
After the Dome Fire of 1996, the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service came out with some helpful hints for homeowners ranging from planting vegetable gardens in the low-fuel zone to installing a permanent roof sprinkler with a readily accessible valve. One of the most obvious tips provided – Stack firewood away from the house – is unfortunately one of the least convenient.
Hopefully, this fire season will come and go with little property damage and no loss of life. But, as Haggard says, “We live in a fire-determined landscape. It requires fire for its health, because, if fires don’t come through periodically, all of the pent-up potential eventually spells catastrophe.
“The challenge is to integrate aspects of the landscape design that would be part of the design anyway, with a strategy that anticipates fire. It’s about balancing our quality of life with the need to protect our lives and our investments.”
Although we must always respect its complexity, unpredictability and awesome power, we can begin to understand the dynamics and patterns of fire. The next step is to apply our understanding to the land that we steward.

Trees Useful in Preventing WIND Damage (My April 1999 REG Column)

For anyone who enjoys living in a climate with changing seasons, our high desert is a great place to be. The skies are blue. The air is clear. We almost never get that uncomfortable kind of humid heat that nearly everybody else across America gets in the summer.
And even when it snows it's fun. It's exciting. It's beautiful. And, just when the novelty is about to wear off, the white stuff disappears.
It would be paradise here except for those almost unbearable April winds. Fortunately, if you create windbreaks in your landscape, you don't have to hide inside your house, your car, the office or the mall the way Texans do in July. You can enjoy your landscape the whole year through.
Anyone designing and installing a landscape plan in northern New Mexico should try to reduce the ravaging effects of our winds. It just comes with the territory. Not only do strong winds disturb one's peace of mind, spread pollen and generate hazardous dust, but they erode soils, stunt plant growth and cause the moisture in plants and soil to evaporate more rapidly.
There are two basic ways in which windbreaks reduce the immediate effects of wind. Impermeable windbreaks abruptly deflect wind. Permeable windbreaks diffuse and gently deflect wind.
Impermeable windbreaks, such as walls or tightly built coyote fences, can work for property owners concerned only with deflecting wind away from small areas such as courtyards, porches, doorways and portals. The problem is that this kind of windbreak actually increases the wind's net negative effects.

When wind is abruptly deflected from one place to another, the deflected
wind's collision with the prevailing wind will produce severe turbulence
nearby. Therefore, especially if improperly placed, your windbreak can
actually create more wind problems than you had at the outset.

Permeable windbreaks, such as rows of trees, can diffuse and deflect wind
and reduce the its negative effects. The main drawback of this kind of
windbreak is that it usually takes a period of five to fifteen years for
trees to start diffusing significant amounts of wind.

If improperly designed, even permeable windbreaks can create localized
turbulence. Be careful to plant your trees perpendicular to the prevailing
wind. Avoid excessive gaps between trees. And make sure winds do not blow
under the canopy of your trees toward people and plants.

In order to cultivate a permeable windbreak, plant four zigzagging rows of
trees. Starting from the leeward side, the first row of trees should
consist of species that stay small when mature. The second row should
consist of medium-sized species. The third row should consist of your
tallest species, while the fourth row should have a mature height that
reaches higher than the medium-sized species but lower than the tallest

The effect of designing a windbreak in this way is to direct wind up and
over a house, a garden, or even an entire piece of property.

Make sure that you choose species that are the proper type for your
windbreak. If you are primarily concerned with winter winds or spring
winds, evergreen species should be used, because they will deflect wind
more effectively than the bare branches of deciduous trees.

When planting a windbreak, it is also important to apply the permaculture
principle: "make every element in a system perform more than one
function." To this end, trees should also be seen as providers of shade,
wildlife habitat and beauty. This type of windbreak can also be a great
source of firewood, an excellent erosion control system and a wonderful wayof increasing the value of a piece of property

How to Choose a Y2K Compliant Property (My February 1999 REG Column)

Many mainstream media outlets have recently suggested that rural land sales will increase significantly in 1999 due to the Y2K problem. For those who have not yet heard, many date-related computer programs and imbedded microchips created before 1997 were given only two digits to represent the year. For example, 1984 was written as “84.” Experts predict that many programs and chips that have not been fixed before the deadline will respond ineffectively the moment the year 2000 arrives.
With its long history of passive solar building, alternative energy and acequia farming, northern New Mexico would be a relatively safe place, at least as compared to our nation’s cities, in the event of a worst-case scenario involving power grids, food distribution systems and/or telecommunications failures. Both Time magazine and The New York Times have run articles about the potential for such scenarios, as well as feature articles about those who believe some religious or alien-related Armaggedon is due soon. Personally, I think the chances of widespread chaos are extremely low, but I also believe that anyone buying or selling land in northern New Mexico this year would be wise to consider what a “Y2K-friendly” property might look like.
Among many other things, permaculture, as a system for designing sustainable communities, provides insights for people with concerns about staying warm and putting food on the table should regional power falter for a significant period of time. By living in a well-insulated, passive-solar home with a small greenhouse, plenty of storage, and a water well powered by photovoltaic panels, modern life off the power grid can be both easy and sustainable.
Realtors should not be surprised to hear clients ask for homes with pantries, basements, large garages or any place where food, water, candles and other such items could be stored. Any property with a functioning windmill, wood stove or other alternative energy system could be advertised more vigorously.
Barns and even chicken coops should be appraised highly lest they get gobbled up below market value.
More so than during the recent drought, we should expect to hear questions concerning cisterns, gray water, water purification systems, constructed wetlands and perhaps even the physics behind composting toilets. Some clients may even consider the health of the soil, its slope and general protection from our high mountain winds – whether they be the cold north winds that prevail in winter or the dry, dusty winds that blow mercilessly during the spring planting season.
Even though fireplaces release more heat than they provide, they can usually warm a room, so greater value should be given to fireplaces, especially if they are directly connected to a heat-releasing mass such as a banco, and even more so if they are located in a small room near the kitchen.
Remote locations may or may not be important to buyers. For the people I talked to from New York City over the holidays, who plan on paying a scouting visit soon, living a stone’s throw from Frenchy’s Field is probably as rural as they’d feel comfortable. For others, only those 30-acre tracts near the Colorado border would do. Either way, the Y2K problem has already been dubbed “the first scheduled disaster in human history” by The Washington Post. No matter what we think may happen, when the sun comes up over Cerrillos Road less than 11 months from now, someone out there probably is predicting something far worse, and he or she has already made plans to move here based on this high level of anxiety. It could prove to be unwise for the real-estate community not to understand and address such fears.

Control EROSION to preserve property value (My January 1999 REG Column)

The majestic landscape is a great selling point for properties here in the Land of Enchantment. We offer clear skies, gorgeous views, spectacular rock outcroppings and dramatic arroyos that inspire the spirit. For many people a major reason for choosing to live here is the awesome beauty of the rugged Southwest.
But the desert landscape can be a double-edged sword. The stark beauty found in an eroding cliff is wonderfully exhilarating, but some buyers (especially those shopping during summer monsoons) may recognize difficulties associated with these conditions. When roads and driveways wash out or foundations become exposed due to soil erosion, buyers may pass over certain properties.
Fortunately, sellers can control erosion for pennies on the dollar. Three permaculture principles are very effective tools in any budgeted war on erosion:
Make the least change for the greatest possible effect. Sometimes called the “low-maintenance” principle, this encourages us to create systems that allow nature to do most of the work. Sometimes a small pile of stones and branches placed across an arroyo can silt up in one storm and begin to effectively reduce the slope of an arroyo. When the slope of an arroyo bed is decreased, the velocity of water flowing down the arroyo will be reduced – perhaps just enough to prevent sediment from jumping onto a driveway.
Every element in a system should be multifunctional. This encourages us to design systems that do more than prevent property from sliding gradually into the Rio Grande. Our systems can also add beauty to the landscape, create shade, reduce the damaging effects of wind, stimulate a succession of naturally occurring flora and fauna, and of course harvest rain and snow when possible.
The problem is the solution. This encourages us to transform the causes of erosion into positive landscape solutions for arid regions. Four of the most common causes of erosion here in the high desert are infrequent (but tremendous) rainstorms; gusty and persistent winds; poor soils; and a typically sparse tree, shrub and ground cover. If vegetation were less spotty, the impact of raindrops on the ground would be reduced, topsoil would be held back by root systems, and shade would protect exposed seedlings. Ultimately, soil nutrients, mulch, moderated local temperatures, less-erosive wind velocities and increased levels of humidity would prevent many of our erosion problems from getting started.
The most significant of these four causes of erosion is the first one. Since we get only 12 inches of precipitation a year, when it does rain, it often comes in short, brutish bursts that push large quantities of sediment downhill. Problems range from roads that fall into arroyos to houses that get buried deep in sand, silt and mud. The good news is that the solution to these problems is the same. There is no better way to control erosion in the desert than to simultaneously collect all forms of precipitation. This can easily be accomplished if we look at every roof, road and overgrazed slope as a potential water source – a solution, not a problem, that comes with desert life.
With this new, positive understanding of erosion and rainwater harvesting, we can take great (yet simple!) steps to beautify local landscapes as we increase not only their market value, but also their value as comfortable and inviting places to enjoy our generally agreeable climate.
On the other hand, if eroding landscapes are neglected, monsoonal forces will usually continue to make matters worse. In the most extreme cases, road and utility access becomes prohibitively expensive, buildings begin to slide down slopes and, eventually, significant portions of our precious investments vanish under the pressure of a few good rains.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Permaculture in Practice

For the last five years I've wiritten a monthly column called "Permaculture in Practice" published in the Santa Fe New Mexican's 'Real Estate Guide' . You'll find it below along with some of my other published writings.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Wild Rumpus Begins!

Having, with my wife, Melissa McDonald, owned a permaculture-oriented landscape design and installation company for over a decade, and over these years having put permaculture to work in our gardens, I am happy to report that we have now spent a full year at our new home and future demonstration site in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The ten thousand gallon underground cistern system is installed. The pump is in. The irrigation system is almost complete. Many of the beds are almost completely prepared, and we will soon be sowing starts in our cold frames. This project, which we hope becomes an example of relative sustainability for the rest of the world, has officially begun. So, as Max in Where the Wild Things Are once said, "Let the wild rumpus start!"

We plan to have demonstrate that you can have a beautiful, diverse, efficient and productive landscape on less than half an acre of desert land. These are some of the elements that will be connected within our system: Annual beds, fruit tree guilds, cold frames, bees, chickens, rabbits, childrens play areas (including water-free fake grass), a small woodland, compost system, plant nursery, plenty of beneficial and beautiful perennials, cistern system with drip irrigation, grey water harvesting, solar water heater, espalier, entertaining areas, teaching spaces, magic spots, herb spirals, deep pipe irrigation, pumice wicks, French drains, cold storage, canning facilities, drying racks, experimental garden plots, gorgeous rock work, diverse mulch materials (from sheet mulching to recycled glass, and much, much more!

One day, within the next three to five years, the site will be open to the public for tours, classes and hands-on learning experiences, please let us know if you would like to be informed as to when this will "officially" occur. In the meantime, please check back at this blog now and then for periodic updates on the progress of our project. And please do know that we would be happy to hear from you if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. We'd love to hear them.