Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Permaculture reflections

August 31, 2010

It was just a year ago this week when I struggled up a long, steep driveway in suburban Heathmont to begin 13 weeks of a Permaculture Design Course with Forest Edge Permaculture. In retrospect, probably the most important thing I’ve done in recent years. I’ve just been reading back through the posts I wrote as the course unfolded and re-enjoying the memories. (I wonder what they’re all doing now?).

What did I learn?

  • A much greater understanding of the permaculture concept and how useful it’s going to become as we enter the era of energy decline. Particularly, a greater appreciation of the design element of permaculture; it’s not just about organic gardening, but about designing sustainable systems to minimise energy use and maximise yield.
  • An appreciation of the concept of a food forest. I’ve lived alongside a couple of acres of remnant natural forest for 10 years and although I saw it as a collection of elements (plants, animals, fungi and bacteria), working and interacting as a complete functioning ecological system, I never thought to use that system as a template for designing a similar system, but one which would concentrate on providing a maximum of food and other resources. So now, a formerly traditional garden—a collection of annual vegetable beds, herbs and fruit trees—is being reworked into a permaculture food forest.
  • An appreciation of the value of holding up water flows on a sloping site so that water doesn’t run off, but is retained and more effectively absorbed into the ground. Hence the ongoing construction of swales behind every fruit tree. It has made an enormous difference with the rain we’ve had this year—after every rain event the swales were full of water and I could see the results in the winter-ripening citrus trees; larger and jucier fruit than usual. (I’m pleased to say the novelty has worn off; I’m no longer rushing down the back, often in teeming rain, to watch the swales filling up!). I’m now continuing to dig swales behind the stone fruits, apples and pears. It will be interesting to see the effect on the summer-ripening fruit. Even with no or minimal summer rainfall, I will no longer have to put a slow sprinkler (gravity-fed from the tank) onto each tree in turn, but will simply fill each swale on a regular basis with the hose. It should save a  lot of time and get the water where it’s needed most.
  • That I was simply wasting good greywater by running it on the ground and using reeds and rushes to absorb it, when I could have been using it to grow more food.

If there’s a downside to all this new learning, it’s this: finding out that the average person hasn’t the slightest understanding of the fact that business-as-usual is over; that an energy-constrained future is going to be very different from the energy-abundant past we’ve all enjoyed and that we need to prepare while we still have some of the energy from that past remaining. Thus, the anger I’ve encountered in trying to get people to understand and prepare has been disappointing. Maybe the only way to go is to encourage people to grow their own food simply because it’s cheaper and healthier, rather than trying to get them to accept reality and put aside their cherished fantasies of a greater and more glorious energy-rich future.

Swale behind the orange tree


Great water-saving device

April 3, 2009

All through last summer I had a large plastic bowl in the sink to catch rinse water before it disappeared down the plughole. From there it went to a bucket in the laundry and from there to the fishpond outside the back door, from which I have a hose gravity-feeding the vegetable garden down the slope.  (Note to the curious: there’s no fish in the pond)

All that transferring of water became a bit tedious at times so I was enthused when a friend recently alerted me to this product. The oddest of names, it’s called a Hughie Sink. Briefly, it’s a plastic insert which fits inside and completely fills the average sink. Complete with drain hole and handles it makes the job of recycling water to the garden easy.

Here’s the manufacturer’s website. Be sure to watch the video.

They’re on sale at Bunnings but when I called in today, they’d sold out.

Thumbing my nose at TPTB

March 8, 2009

Further to my previous post about water use.

If water rationing comes into force, I assume we’ll get an allocation of the stuff and be allowed to use it as we please.

Since I’m allowed to use approximately 3600 litres per week on the garden at the moment, I don’t see why I can’t put it into one of the small tanks (4500 litres) and use the water more effectively from there. I certainly wouldn’t use that much from the tank each week with the fine spray I’m using, even running it all day. I’d use less water overall and I’d use it more effectively.

I don’t have a lot of time for TPTB. I don’t need to tell you what I did, except that I suddenly have a lot more water in one of my tanks.

Anyway, it rained today and we got 10 mm. First time in over two months. So there.

Slightly later edit:

I decided I’d Google Target 155 (the name given to the water-saving campaign) and see what was being said.  So here’s the link.  Humpf. I don’t think much of their methods.  They admit daily water use figures are only an estimate. So they look at overall consumption. Subtract a figure for non-domestic use (a real ballpark figure that is). Divide by Melbourne’s population (does that include tiny new-born babes?…..such a lot of water they use). Divide by 7 days. Somebody knows how many days in a week! That’s about the only accurate calculation in there!

No, I’d like some accurate through-the-meter readings, please.

Water anomalies—are we being conned?

March 6, 2009

Stage 3a water restrictions are in place in Melbourne at the moment. This means we’re allowed to water the garden on two days per week, for two hours, from 6am to 8am, hand held hoses only, with a trigger nozzle. I’ve been watering the garden (food plants only, please note; no useless lawns or rose bushes) from the water tanks with a fine spray because the garden is on a slope and the soil is so compacted that water has to be put into it slowly. If I used the hose from the mains, much of the water would run off and be wasted.

The Powers That Be (TPTB) are telling us to try and keep our water use to 155 litres per person per day. You can’t do that if you have a garden and you water it as restrictions allow. I decided to try a little test. I read the meter and watered for 10 minutes with the pressure at a level I considered ‘normal’ for watering, then re-read the meter. 150 litres.

So, standing and watering for two hours, twice a week, I would use 150 x 6 x 2 x 2 = 3600 litres, which averages out to 514 litres per day. And that’s not including water used inside the house for drinking, cooking and washing. For our 2-person household that’s 257 per person per day, just in the garden, just to grow food. More than Target 155.

TPTB are also quoting consumption figures for Melbourne households on a daily basis and giving figures which are either at or slightly above the target 155. How do they know this? We all receive quarterly bills. Our meters are read every 3 months. Unless domestic and non-domestic supplies are on different systems (a doubling of the water delivery infrastructure which I doubt), and the daily figures for each are knowable, then the figures are being fudged and we’re being conned.

Why would they like us to think we can and are, using less? I think it’s because ultimately water rationing will come into being. Having conned us into believing that everyone can get by on 155 litres per day, that’s what we’ll be rationed to.

Say goodbye to growing food.

Water woes

January 29, 2008

There’s more in this morning’s paper about the water restrictions in Melbourne at the moment:

Mebourne faces strict water restrictions for at least another two years unless there are some rains “of biblical proportions”, the managing director of Yarra Valley Water has warned.

There’s a simple answer to restrictions, one which most city people wont contemplate and that’s to put in a tank to catch and store rainwater.

Last summer when it was so dry, a friend ordered a tank and was told there was a long waiting list. Suddenly within a short time, he had his tank. “How come”, I asked. “It rained”, he said, “and the supplier told me everyone cancelled their orders.” <Sigh> Some people just don’t get it.

In the long run, people will do what they want to do. They’ll water illegally if they can get away with it. Does a hose connected to an inside tap and running out the window constitute water used “inside the house”? I’ve got a hose connected to the washing machine’s cold water inlet at the moment. It’s part of our summer fire-protection plan because we’re in a bushfire zone. It’d be easy to squirt it out the door onto the garden on the pretext of ‘regular system checks’.

Ultimately the fairest way is to allocate each household a certain quantity of water and let people decide how they want to use it.

Until there’s no energy to pump it and no water in the dams to pump. That’s when life will really start to get interesting.

More on water — a sign of things to come?

December 6, 2007

The Melbourne Age records the problems of the tiny town (pop. 145) of Orme in Tennessee. Orme has always relied on water from a mountain spring. Now that has dried up. Orme’s antiquated fire engine hauls in water to fill the town’s tank from a fire hydrant 5 km away. Each day, the town’s water supply is turned on at 6pm and turned off 3 hours later. For the first time in 100 years, much of the south-west of the US has reached the most severe category of drought. The US Govt Accountability Office has warned that at least 36 states would face catastrophic water shortages within five years due to a combination of drought, rising temperatures, urban sprawl and population growth. Who was it who said we live in interesting times?

I wonder how long it will be before water supplies in Melbourne are turned off for a period each day. With population growing and Melbourne’s water storages at present only 40% full, I can’t see the dams ever filling again. I think we will always have some form of water restrictions from now on, until the day when the water finally gets turned off forever. (Note to self: put in another tank).

Watering ideas

December 1, 2007

We’re suffering Stage 3a watering restrictions in Melbourne at the moment. That means watering the garden by hand is allowed for 2 hours (between 6am & 8am) on 2 mornings per week. There are other conditions which you will find at the link, if you’re interested.

Last summer’s Big Dry was a disaster for our fruit trees. Watering out of the 9000 litre tank, by gravity, with one hose, was too slow to allow the fruit trees and the vegetable garden to be adequately watered and the veggies got preferential treatment. This year, I’ve made sure the fruit trees get their share.

I’ve bought a number (25 at last count) of 60 litre plastic bins and installed one on the upslope side of each fruit tree. I’ve drilled 3 small holes around one side about 15 cm apart and 3 cm up from the base of the bin and stopped these up with bamboo kebab skewers. Fill the bin with water, remove the skewers and three small streams of water give the tree a decent drink.



The lime with its watering bin. There’s a zucchini in between. The wire guard is to keep the rabbits off the lime. They don’t like zucchinis.

I’ve also installed a couple of extra bins in one of the new vegetable gardens, in this case with 8 holes drilled around the base, and planted cherry tomatoes all around the bin.

The bins have a domed lid. I’ve turned it upside down and drilled a hole in the centre. Any rain that falls or dew that condenses is channeled into the bin. Overall water storage has thus increased by a couple of thousand litres.

Even though we have 3 tanks — 18,000 litres in total — I’ve decided to save the tank water for an emergency (like Stage 4 restrictions — no garden watering at all — or the water being cut off completely), and water from the mains on one of our allocated days. The other allocated day I’ll use for re-filling the storage bins. I can easily accomplish both these things in the 2 hours allowed. The only thing I’m not going to do is stick to the allocated time of day. Not that I mind getting into the garden at 6am, but I have other things to do at that time. If I’m allowed to water for 2 hours, I fail to see why I shouldn’t do it at a time that’s convenient to me. I’m also watering useful (food) plants, not useless lawns or ornamentals. There have even been some demands from household food plant growers to be exempted from restrictions, but probably that would be well nigh impossible to implement.