Permaculture is all about implementing universal principles with locally-tailored solutions. Here in central Texas, especially the Austin area, we inhabit a unique climate that is prone to extremes- drought, heat, sun, storms, and floods. Mother nature’s mood swings can wreak havoc on topsoil and make our precious water supplies more scarce, so planning for these extremes is of utmost importance in this region. Here are some simple tips for implementing permaculture solutions to protect your soil and conserve water:
Protecting Your Soil
If you are growing anything, be it fruit trees, ornamental plants, shade trees, rows of vegetables, or flower beds, healthy soil is the foundation of their success. Three enemies of soil health are overgrazing, overexposure to sunlight and Erosion caused by heavy rainfall. We often see these three challenges working in tandem over time to degrade topsoil. Having too many animals on your land in set stock grazing will degrade the forage quality, compact the soil and expose a higher percentage of your soil to direct sun. Prolonged exposure to heat and sunlight in the summer can cook the topsoil, drying it out and killing off valuable microbial life. Then when the rains come this hard baked layer of soil is not able to absorb and infiltrate water very well which creates a higher run off to rain fall coefficient. Heavy rain events can quickly create sheet flow that washes away topsoil, carrying it into creeks, rivers and eventually the ocean contributing to other problem downstream. While the erosion can be very subtle and hard to see sometimes the flood waters created by excess runoff can totally destroy gardens, crack foundations, & tear up roads. here’s how you can be prepared:
Planting trees and shrubs to create shade for your flowers and vegetables is a great way to relieve your coveted plants from the Texas heat. Trees like Goldenball Leadtree (Leicaena retusa) are perfect for this because they are fast growing, provide a nice ‘dappled’ shade that still let’s some light in, and they fix nitrogen into the soil, passively fertilizing the soil around them.
Heavy mulching is a major key to success in Central Texas where temperatures can reach over 100 degrees for months on end. Keeping a thick layer of mulch around your trees, shrubs, veggies, and flowers will protect the soil from heat and sun, increase water absorption, and add to the fertility of the soil as the mulch breaks down.
We just posted this great article about 3 erosion control techniques that can help you prevent soil loss during heavy rainfall events. With the right earthworks and drainage systems, you can make sure that when we get an unforeseen 6 inches of rain in 24 hours, all of that water will have a place to go that isn’t right over and through your precious gardens or structures.
Conserving Water in Central Texas
Like sunlight, water is another essential part of growing healthy plants, and unfortunately we are no longer living in the days when access to unlimited amounts of water from local utility providers is necessarily a sure thing. Also, the quality and cost of water is often a concern too. Major droughts can be expected periodically in Central Texas, and while most people start scrambling when water becomes scarce and rationing is implemented, permaculture design can ensure that you are using water efficiently and are not part of the problem.a
There are many exciting ways to grow vegetables, herbs, and other useful plants using only a fraction of the water that traditional gardens use. Wicking beds are a type of raised garden bed that have a reservoir of water underneath the soil layer, meaning all watering is done “from below” and no water is lost to evaporation. Aquaponics is a method of raising fish in tandem with gravel-based growing beds where all water is recycled between the plants and the fish, resulting in a 90% decrease in water needed for those plants. These are just two of many water-wise gardening techniques.
When it comes to watering your plants, sprinklers are the biggest culprit for wasting water. If you do have sprinklers, make sure to only run them in the evening where less water will evaporate. The best way to automate watering is via drip irrigation, where water is released slowly and right at the plants that need it.
Grey water is classified as any water that your house uses other than the toilets and kitchen sink. Many houses have their grey water piped separately from their black water, and you can harness that grey water to grow plants. You will need to be mindful of what soaps and chemicals you put down your drains, and you won’t want to grow edible plants in most grey water systems, but you can create beautiful wetlands and growing areas of ornamental and useful plants that don’t need any watering at all, so long as you take showers and use your bathroom sinks periodically.
The best way to be self reliant when it comes to water is to catch and store your own. Setting up a rainwater catchment system for your home means that you will always have thousands of gallons of water at your disposal, even if your local utility stops providing water or increases prices. Rainwater is also the “gold standard” for watering plants, and will help your gardens to flourish far more than chlorinated ‘city water’.
If you have a large enough property and catchment area, installing a pond to create surface water source is one of the best things you can do. This benefits the wildlife, gives you a large source of water to draw on and increases property value. You can install a dock for recreation and stock the pond with fish.
If you’d like to learn more about how permaculture design can enhance your landscape and your life, contact Symbiosis Regenerative Systems here for a free phone consultation & good fit call with our Founder and Lead Designer Mike Wolfert.