Open Thread on Water

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers have enjoyed NC’s semi-regular link collections on Water, in Water Cooler, if “enjoy” is the word I want. Reader different clue commented:

The subthread way up above about water shortage, deserts, how to cope, what grows where, etc. was so valuable that one hopes our co-host/blogger Lambert Strether will be able at some point to do a Permaculture post on some corner or version of that subject . . . and invite the readers to offer everything they think they know about desert water-handling, what grows, tree-management, etc. Such a post and thread could be found easily in the Permaculture Topic section whereas this thread will be hard to find in a year or two by people remembering the desert subthread and hoping to find it again.

This is that post. “Everything!” Normally, I’d try to write the best post in the world on water, in high flourishing style, as befits NC, but today was the day of the Church plant sale — “We don’t sell anything that isn’t invasive” — and the first day it was really warm enough to go to the Farmer’s Market and buy flats and my soil came yesterday, so after a long day outside I got quite a late start this evening, and so this is not that post. (We already have one post on permaculture and water, here.) So I’m going to begin with my personal practice on the patch of land I work, zoom out to the locality, and then out to the state of Maine. Readers will then know the extent of my knowledge and practice — not that much! — and then they go on to fill in the vast blank areas. (For example, I know nothing about “desert water-handling”[1], or tree management[2].)

So, the patch that I work: I live in a very large, very old house on a very small patch of land. I’ve done very little with water management on the house, other than water efficient toilets and an Energy Star washing machine. In a perfect world, I’d collect roof run-off in cisterns, but my roof is pretty icky, and I’ll wait for the happy day when I can install a metal roof for that. As for the patch of land:

I’m not optimized to miminize water usage absolutely, but given the givens as I wish them to be given. For example, I have abolished my lawn entirely — so, no mowing and no “watering” — but I haven’t replaced it with, say, gravel, or paved it over, neither of which would require any water at all. The given is that I have a garden, instead of a lawn. Tomatoes were my gateway vegetable, but by now my garden is a pretty well complexified. Stylistically, it’s a grandmother’s garden; think masses of color. Here is a small corner of it, last summer:


(The flowers don’t need to be watered at all, perhaps because they are sown so thickly.) I started out in the depths of the recession after the Great Financial Crash, with the idea that I might need to grow my own food, but as it turned out, I ended up giving the vast bulk of my vegetables away, because I grew far more than I could use personally, and also because I didn’t have time to figure out how to preserve them (or to build a root cellar; my basement is a really ugly place to be).

So I reformulated my goals to giving away the vegetables, and to sitting in my garden in the midst of the blooming and buzzing profusion, and making the garden my “office,” in which I work on my computing devices. Which has turned out to be one of the great pleasures in life. The garden is also an exercise in diplomatic relations with the town, in that it communicates visually that I’m taking care of the property, am not a crazy recluse, am here for the long haul, in short, that I’m part of civil society — and not only in the town, but here, since the garden also serves as a proof of concept for permaculture practices.

Those then are the “givens,” and I use one technique to minimize “watering,” and capture as much water as possible, not only rain, but dew. Sheet mulch!

Here is how I sheet mulch (though others have more elaborate methods):

Assuming the bed to have been previously mulched:

1. In the fall, I lay down leaves collected from the last fall over the beds, and material from my compost bins.

2. Over the winter, we get snow, rain, etc., which the leaves, the compost, and the existing sheet mulch soak up.

3. In the spring, I buy a couple of yards of really good compost (I use seafood compost. Do not use compost any compost that doesn’t have a clear source; Municipal Solid Waste-derived compost from a landfill operator, for example). This means that the property is not self-sufficient but, though with more work I could, I do not generate enough mulch on my own. I also buy straw (generally too much, and not hay, which has seeds).

4. After the danger of frost, that is, when I can turn on the outside water, I build the sheet mulch in layers as follows:

a.) Shovel a layer of compost onto the beds, over the leaves and the last year’s sheet mulch.

b.) Cover the newly composted bed with newspaper. (Some advocate cardboard, but I can get newspaper within walking distance, it covers more area for the weight, and I like the way newspaper adapts to the shape of the terrain. Some say don’t use color sections in the newspaper because of the ink, but nowadays almost all colored ink is soy-based. The paper is flimsy and the sheets are smaller, so I avoid color for that reason.)

c.) Soak the newspaper with the hose to prevent it from blowing, and to add water to the mulch.

d.) Cover the newspaper with an inch or two of straw — enough so the newspaper doesn’t show through.

e.) When the time comes to plant seedlings, “punch in” a hole through the sheet mulch with a trowel and put the seedling into it. (I dump soil amendments into the hole, also.) No, I don’t know how to sheet mulch for rows of seeds, like carrots or lettuce, without adding the sheet mulch after they’ve sprouted, which is a pain.

Other that adding the sheet mulch, I don’t do anything else to the beds, like till them. In fact, I try not to walk on the soil at all. Over time, as layer and layer and layer, you will find the soil becoming softer and darker and more crumbly.

This is a very lightweight (cheap, “quick and dirty”) approach. Here’s a much more heavy duty approach, maybe more suitable for breaking new ground.

Here’s what the sheet-mulched beds look like, early in the season:


But back to water: I water the flowers until they’re established, and the vegetables until the first real (not baby) leaves appear. Then I don’t water at all, because the plants don’t need it. The sheet mulch captures any rain, and all the dew. And the soil never dries out. (And there are other advantages, like no weeding. One form of water I’m saving is sweat!) So, basically, I water for the last two weeks in May, and the first two weeks in June. Then I stop, and I don’t water for July, August, or September. (This isn’t perfect, and perhaps readers can suggest a better approach, but it’s certainly an improvement over my practice when I started, when I watered each tomato plant, daily, for the entire summer.)

So that is sheet mulch in Zone 5b. I know people in the South who mulch with straw; and I don’t know what people in the deserts — or the rainforests — do at all!

The town, despite being at the confluence of two rivers and being, in its private aspect, garden mad, seems determined to cover the entire “downtown” with impermeable surfaces, leaving no soil[3] for plants. Parking lots, sidewalks, stone steps, stone plazas, and on and on and on: Hard surfaces over which the rainwater runs, never captured, never soaking into the soil, until it goes into the storm drains and thence the river.[4] Discouraging! Of course, the hard surfaces will crack in the winter, demanding to be replaced (in a small example of a self-licking ice cream cone), but perhaps we can get the surfaces opened to the soil instead.

Zooming out to the state level, I’ve previously written of successful resistance to landfills, and (so far) to the East-West Corridor, both of which endanger the Penobscot Watershed. We also have Nestlė’s Poland Springs operation, which is sending water out of state in bottles. Finally, the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Tribes have withdrawn from the Maine State Legislature, with over fishing rights on the Penobscot River, for which the tribes have stricter water quality standards than the EPA. Personally, I wonder if it might not be best to hand the entire watershed over to the Tribes to be run as a Common Pool Resource, given what we’ve done to it with landfills, pulp and paper, the now-mostly-dead mills, and mercury pollution.

* * *

So that’s my practice and that’s what I know. If there are any water experts in the NC commentariat, they will be able to see how primitive my practice is, and how little I know! I’d love to hear about people’s water situation in other parts of the country and other parts of the world: How people garden, how their town manages water, and how their state does. I’d especially enjoy hearing from people working in climates even more extreme than Maine’s: Xeriscaping in the desert, or the special problems in the tropics (the leaves don’t seem to rot to form mulch. Why is that?)


[1] Except that replacing one’s lawn with AstroTurf can’t be the solution; it’s just replacing the oil from the lawnmover, fertilizers, and insecticides with the oil in the plastic grass!

[2] Except that when a friend called in an arborist to prune their peach trees, those peach trees were suddenly extremely prolific!

[3] To be fair, there are two or three beds that are bark-mulched. Ugh.

[4] If I had my way in my local Jobs Guarantee committee, I’d plant edible forests everywhere, and maintain them.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. gardener1

    I’ve seen the wet-newspaper-as-mulch gardening tip all over the internet.


    It might work in some places. In Texas it’s going to get you a yard full of roaches. There’s nothing roaches love more than damp newspapers.

    And besides that, newspapers are not that easy to come by anymore.

    For mulch I like cheap hay. Without the seedheads.

    1. THH

      Never understood the newspaper and cardboard to begin with. If you put down a thick layer, they aren’t going to sprout. Even if they do, you just pull it out. Easier than putting down newspapers and cardboard.

      1. Chief Bromden

        You don’t put it over your plants, you put it around them…. or you lay it over your entire bed and punch holes where you want your plants. It keeps the soil nice and moist while also preventing weeds and soil erosion.

        We buy biodegradable sheet mulch paper. It’s sturdier than newspaper and less rigid than cardboard. It’s handy because it comes in rolls (you can just roll it over your beds) and you can order it to match your bed width or the width of your in between aisles if you are just preventing weeds…

        We found cardboard to be better for ‘lasagna gardening’ (building healthy soil for planting in a designated plot).

  2. Victoria

    Great thread! We live in Orange County, NY, which is supposed to be a very wet area, full of patches of reedy wetland, and the famous Pine Island black soil which is basically agriculturally-adapted wetland. Flooding was once a real problem. For the past two years, though, we’ve had “Abnormally Dry” conditions–this year those conditions stretch from northern NJ to Vermont and New Hampshire. So what are people establishing a small orchard to do? Our young trees need plenty of water.

    Mulch, of course. For trees you use wood chips. Check. And we already had drip irrigation (much better for trees). Check. But now we also need to collect water when it does rain. We have a pond we could pump from, but it got so dry last year (down around 3 feet) that we didn’t want to take water out of it. All kinds of things live there! The wetland at the bottom of our property dried out completely.

    So guess what–we’re installing gutters and rain barrels. Most people around here don’t have them because gutters are hazardous when they freeze, but we have some low sheds and a barn which give us good low-traffic places to install them. Beyond that, I am looking into some basic gray water ideas, like collecting shower water. We use all organic soaps and cleaners, so could theoretically put that on the trees (though possibly not our vegetable patch).

    So we’re persisting, but we’re scared. We weren’t prepared for a long-term drought in this part of NY. I wonder what the dairy farmers around here are doing? They grow a lot of corn, and of course, cows.

    1. nippersdad

      Congratulations on looking into a grey water system! They really are wonderful things to have.Two things I would take especial care to look into, though:

      If you have it hooked up to a washing machine you will get a lot of fuzz/hair/lint which can do terrible things to your pump and/or drip irrigation system. Best to run it through a ground bark soil amendment and sand layer (maybe in an old garbage can) so that it will strain it all out before it gets into your holding cistern. You can then dip all that muck off the top and throw it into a bed somewhere to rot.

      Also, you will want to watch your PH. Soaps, even organic ones, are extremely alkaline and that makes a real difference for some crops. If you run it through a ground bark soil amendment sieve, though, that will help as the stuff is so acid it will help to neutralize it.

  3. John Galt III

    Newspaper may be tainted with industrial chemicals, also known as endocrine disruptors. It would be great if UV in sunlight degrades those to harmless nutrients, but that may take longer than a few lifetimes. If the newspaper were just harmless wood fiber, it would be an awesome adjunct.

    The cutting edge of water research can be found here:

    comment on [1] plastic grass doesn’t leach out of the soil and go elsewhere nearly as fast as herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer, and you don’t mower them, then bag up the petroleum distillates and burn more fuel to cart them off to a landfill.

      1. John Galt III

        Newsprint was, for many years, tainted with dioxin, a by-product of the bleaching process. I haven’t read up on the state of paper bleaching, and there isn’t much recent literature to describe how much dioxin paper still has. Classic conflict of interest that discourages investigation. Because newsprint isn’t intended for human consumption, it may not be processed with the same care as paper towels. Not long ago, all paper was loaded with dioxins, but friendlier process have been rolled out for most products. The MSDS doesn’t have to list dioxin, because a) it is not intentionally added to the product, b) is present only in trace amounts c) is advertised by the industry to be an essential micronutrient.

        1. Optimader

          Constituents listed on msds reports are not limited to those intentionally compounded into the subject material. For example, crystalline silica is reported when present in talc. I have read here and there about the theoretical possibility of dioxin related to trace bleach in paper. I have never heard it taken seriously by any credible source, nor have i heard of any cases of poisoning related to dioxin derived from composted paper.

          A credible link would be interesting.

    1. John Galt III

      I think that a lot of the mushroom factory farms use newsprint to grow the mushrooms that then are sold in supermarkets. If that is the case, those mushrooms will be tainted with the same endocrine disruptors. It has been a long time since I read about how they make the mushroom compost from newsprint, but I did. If thermal receipt paper gets recycled with the newsprint, then all of the BPA, dioxin, PBDEs and phthalates can get transferred to the food.

      1. optimader

        I think that a lot of the mushroom factory farms use newsprint to grow the mushrooms that then are sold in supermarkets

        I don’t think newsprint is used as bedding material, maybe that’s changed but I don’t think so. If you have reason to think that is the case, a link would be good.

        +20years ago we supplied rotary sterilizers to kill spores in mushroom compost for the Butler County Mushroom Farms, in BC , PA. Fun project, the “farm” was in a cave complex Large diameter rotary driers are used to heat the raw compost up to ~250F to kill and spores and infestation before it is bedded and inoculated with the desired mushroom spore. At that time compost was manure with various mineral and organic amendments, I doubt the formulation has changed much

        (Reasons to be cautious about “spent” mushroom bedding as a soil amendment)
        World’s largest mushroom facility here
        August 28, 2008 4:00 AM

  4. Steve H.

    What was done in the past, rendered with extraordinary beauty and scholarship:

    The Water Atlas, by Pietro Laureano

    What we are just coming to know about how water organizes itself and its solutes:

    Jerry Pollack on structured water

    My own rant:
    Gutters are meant for tropical areas like California and Florida, where the local flora is not dominated by deciduous trees, which every single year blows leaves into the gutter so they clog up and turn into mosquito breeding grounds like fifteen feet above the ground that you have to climb ladders to clean out and ladders are the fourth most dangerous semi-normal household item after chainsaws cars and guns. And then winter comes and they turn into ice dams and screw up your roof and if you try to chip them off you are knocking ice chunks onto your head while you are freezing and its no fun. So rip off your gutters and put down some pavers and shoot the water into a nice fat hugelkultur where the mycorhizzal fungi will suck it up like a sponge and release it as needed.

    {Please add an extra w to the beginning of the urls, which I shortened for reasons known to our loyal readers.}

    1. Synoia

      “Gutters are meant for tropical areas like California and Florida”

      Houses in the tropics do not have gutters. Heavy tropical rains overwhelm the gutters.

      Proper grading should direct run-off from the roof away from the house, to avoid “ponding” near the walls of the structure. Consequently one “needs” gutters only over doorways — to stop water dripping down the back of one’s neck when entering.

      Gutters were developed for use in temperate areas where there is much light rainfall (for example, the UK).

    2. Pepsi

      You can buy (or make, quite easily) little screens that sit on top of the gutters and prevent helicopters, leaves, buds, and other tree debris’ entry. Get a bent coat hanger to plumb the elbows once a year and you’re good to go.

      1. Steve H.

        We have a lot of very tall maples that overwhelm this system. The leaves and helicopters build up on top of the screens, then the helicopters sprout while the leaves mulch, which rot the eaves. Site specific, I guess.

    3. craazyboy

      Beware of metal roofs, as well. I’ve read they are extremely noisy during rainfall. You will get no sleep at night and it’s annoying as hell during the day.

  5. Mell Pell

    I want to respond to the “structured water” guy above. This Dr. Nate Storey on structured water. It is utter and complete BS from beginning to end:

    This ties in with my main point. The permaculture thing is a cult with no clear scientific basis and it is frequently at odds with the most efficacious growing techniques.

    Dr. Storey is one of he world’s leading experts in the Aquaponics. This is the science of growing plants and fish in the same closed ecological loop. The detail that is important here is that not only is aquaponics the most efficient way to grow food, it is also the lowest water use method of growing anything.

    I live in a place where I can gather 20,000 gallons of water from my roof in a year. We use about 25,000 gallons. clearly something has to give. I have decided to give aquaponics a try. Aquaponics has a bad reputation as a pastime of inexpert backyard gardeners and therefore has not gained a widespread commercial foothold, but given the extraordinary yields possible with aquaponics, it is just a matter of time before every farmer adopts this technique.

    Let me just discuss some of the benefits.
    *) irrigation water is recirculated and purified by the roots of the plants. this is the lowest water use gardening technique.
    *) fertilizer is provided by the fish waste directly to the roots of the plants.
    *) no pesticides can be used in a aquaponics system because they will kill the fish.
    *) there is zero agricultural run off in an aquaponics system. All of the water is recycled.
    *) as I stated previously this is the most productive way to raise crops.
    *) this method lends itself to vertical gardening( because the roots are immersed in water and therefore very light weight and because vertical farming reduces plumbing runs. )

    The science behind aquaponics has been rigorously proven so I feel sure that this method will eventually be able to feed a world population of 10 billion people.

    1. jgordon

      The science behind aquaponics has been rigorously proven…

      You are viewing science in a mystical/religious sense rather than as a tool for investigating nature. It’s an absolute fundamental concept of science that science can not prove anything, and getting that wrong is not a minor mistake. It’s the difference between someone who knows what science is and can use the word “science” in a conversation with intellectual honesty, and someone who can’t.

      That said I learned about aquaculture in my first intro aquaculture design class. It’s an interesting and useful technique in certain situations, but not the be-all and end-all of food production, and it’s not necessary especially sustainable/ethical/good for the environment either. Aquaculture is a similar concept that is more environmentally responsible and ethically acceptable to permaculturists–though being flexible and adaptable a permaculturist would likely be perfectly willing to employ either if the situation called for it. Permaculture is a philosophy, not a collection of specific techniques.

      This ties in with my main point. The permaculture thing is a cult with no clear scientific basis and it is frequently at odds with the most efficacious growing techniques

      Also, the opinion of someone who doesn’t know the first thing about science shouldn’t be commenting on science. Going by the evidence, your opinion on any such topics is completely worthless.

      1. Mell Pell

        So … let me get this straight. You are defending the Structured Water guy? Is that right? The guy who is stupid and doesn’t understand science is not Mr. Structured Water but somebody else? OK cool. Now that is clear.

        Let’s get back to the cult like nature of Permaculture. As you so eloquently point out, there is no specific set of techniques associated with Permaculture. In fact reading over the Wikipedia page just now, I have trouble finding anything that might NOT be considered Permacuture by somebody. That is a pretty flexible philosophy!

        From wikipedia:

        The definition of permanent agriculture as that which can be sustained indefinitely was supported by Australian P. A. Yeomans in his 1964 book Water for Every Farm. Yeomans introduced an observation-based approach to land use in Australia in the 1940s, and the keyline design as a way of managing the supply and distribution of water in the 1950s.

        So it looks like there is something there about sustainability and water use. Cool. What does that word sustainable mean? This is an idea that merits some brain cell. If the population of the earth was the same as it was in 8000BC that pretty much any combination of slash and burn or overgrazing or what have you would be sustainable. The grass would eventually recover, the trees would regrow over time. The problem only appears when the population gets to the point where it is impacting the earth consistently before the damage can heal. So fundamentally, the water problem and the food problem are related to the population issue.

        When I hear people promoting sustainable development, I hear “I wish to see the genocide of seven billion people”. Is that what you want? I am not interested in “sustainable framing”. I am interested in growing food on a tiny lot using the available resources at my disposal. This extends to money, soil, water, fertilizer and dozens of other constraints. Permaculture-ists seem to be motivated by some other idea. I’m mostly interested in having conversations with people that want to grow food, not subscribe to some weird-ball religious cult.

        1. Chief Bromden

          Hmmm, you’re the first person I’ve heard describe people who are trying to conserve water, regenerate soil, landscapes, and forests with various low-impact agriculture techniques and designs as “cultists”. I’d just call them responsible stewards of the land.

          1. Mell Pell

            This is because you are not familiar with the history of the movement. Organic agriculture stated as an expressly spiritualist movement. It is still obsesses with the idea that the soil and water have a spirit that needs to be “respected”. Current incarnations have tried to suppress this side of there ideas because they discovered that having a pseudo-scientific patina on an expressly religious movement was a “sell”. see for example here:

            Soil biology scientists began in the late 1800s and early 1900s to develop theories on how new advancements in biological science could be used in agriculture as a way to remedy these side effects, while still maintaining higher production. In Central Europe Rudolf Steiner, whose Lectures on Agriculture were published in 1925.[10][11][12]:[13] created biodynamic agriculture, an early version of what we now call organic agriculture.[14][15][16] Steiner was motivated by spiritual rather than scientific considerations.[12]:17–19

            This is from Wikipedia on Organic Farming.

            You have just reinforced my main point. The purpose of Permaculture is NOT to grow food ( or even flowers ) but to provide a spiritual experience to the cult members.

            1. OIFVet

              How much is Monsanto paying you to spout this crap? My peasant ancestors were practicing ‘organic’ agriculture long before some longhairs came along to rediscover it and thus provide yet another avenue of hippie bashing. And my ancestors were no cultists, they developed their methods driven by the simple reality of small plots whose fertility needed to be conserved if they wanted to feed their large families. Their soil was and is alive, compared to the waste left behind by modern monoculture farming and the bewilderingly large petrochemical inputs it requires. And FYI, the extreme faith in science to overcome the planet’s carrying capacity is a cult in itself.

              1. Mell Pell

                First, Monsanto isn’t paying me anything. They most likely wouldn’t like my ideas because they remove most of the chemicals that Monsanto sells. It is possible ( with great effort) to do aquaponics with zero artificial chemicals.

                Second, The ideas that growing food without artificial chemicals, crop rotation and rainwater capture predate the permaculture movement is very pertinent. Your ancestors where no doubt interested primarily in growing food, not worshiping the earth mother. As you point out, Farmers if left to their own devices will tend to conserve the soil and engage in agricultural practices that minimize waste and costs. It is only when the profit motive is introduced that we see the kind of waste you describe. What happens when farmers are given the option to opt out of the rat race and just engage in historic agricultural practices? Well fortunately, we have an experiment. This is from ZeroHedge a few days ago:

                The Crucial Role of the Farming Sector

                Many of the traditional Germanic themes were associated with the land. As such, this became a centerpiece of the Nazis’ ideology, further accentuated by the historical support of many landlords to their cause.

                Some 9 million people worked in German farms by the time Hitler came to power. In comparison, the US had 10 million people employed in the sector (curiously many from German descent, particularly in the Midwest) with seven times as much arable land. This was emblematic of Germany’s meager productivity and incomes in the farming sector.

                In 1933, Hitler implemented the State Hereditary Farm Law, where selected lands were declared hereditary, as an Erbhof, to pass from father to son, and could not be mortgaged or alienated. Any farm of 7 to 125 hectares, the size deemed to be adequate to maintain a family and act as a productive unit, could be declared Erbhof. All farms of over family size were also made secure in possession of their owner’s family, with no possibility of alienation.

                While farmers benefited from the elimination of debt and some aid from the government – such as fixating prices and production to promote that elusive autarky, their ability to finance crop expansions and purchases of new equipment was also reduced. The sector saw a continuous outflow of workers, who were now being employed in all the other government sponsored projects and the military.

                As a result, agricultural productivity suffered and shortages of food developed across the country. In response, the Nazis implemented food rationing – which would remain in place until the end of the war. In 1937, annual consumption of wheat bread, meat, bacon, milk, eggs, fish, vegetables, sugar, fruit and beer had fallen to levels comparable to a decade earlier (only rye bread, cheese and potatoes had increased). Malnourishment was starting to become a real problem amongst German workers, in farms and factories across the country.

                In typical fashion, rather than blaming his own policies, Hitler believed that this situation resulted from a lack of “space to live” for his people. All major European powers had access to vast territories in Africa and elsewhere. The US had a huge continent at its disposal. But not Germany, who had lost out in WWI and was now confined to its diminished borders.

                If other countries could obtain large amounts of land by force, why couldn’t Germany? After all, security was not the only reason to build a powerful army.

                The article doesn’t say what agricultural practices where followed, but we might speculate that strapped farmer would cut back on labor, so less plowing, crop rotation rather than expensive fertilizer, no tractors might have meant hand threshing, so less ground compaction. These are all mainstays of organic agriculture. All we know for sure was that people starved.

                Is there any serious question that organic methods are less productive than modern agriculture? People that want to return to these methods will see the same result. I think this is the intended result. They want to see a population crash. This is a true cult in every sense of the word.

                The concept of carrying capacity is every bit as fluid as the idea of sustainability. What is the carrying capacity of the earth? five billion? Six? ten? Try Five Million. The entire world held no more than Five Million people in total for seven hundred thousand years. That is the definition of sustainability.

                1. OIFVet

                  First, Monsanto might as well be. It’s the same sort of crap in different clothing. Second, nice introduction of Hitler. Godwin’s Law is in full effect. Third, go fuck yourself. When you destroy Earth with your industrial farming the kind of population crash that will ensue will make hitlerites gree with envy. Forth, carrying capacity is fluid but generally we know we have exceeded it when the environment begins to degrade. We exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity long time ago, though far above the 5 million population figure that you pull out of Uranus

                  1. sufferin'succotash

                    Leaving aside Godwin’s Law, the Nazi example isn’t really pertinent anyway. Hitler’s policy of gaining Lebensraum in the East was a longstanding goal which had nothing to do with any farm policies adopted after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

                  2. jrs

                    Really, a lot of suspect environmental destruction could kill 6 billion, aided and abetted by chemical agriculture. Prove it? Um noone could, but some climate scientists suspect it, and a dead ocean might do it. People are already dying from climate change, the numbers are yet small. If aquaponics can be done in a completely sustainable manner then maybe it will work. Industrial agriculture obviously is no where near sustainable. Not sustainable means it won’t last, period. It won’t last in the short OR long term, unfortunately much looks like it may be over in the short term.

                    And yes there are a LOT of questions of whether organic agriculture is less productive than industrial agriculture. This depends on how you define productive though. The main benefit of industrial agriculture might be saving on labor, but with more labor organic agriculture could produce as well or better. So industrial agriculture meets an economist definition of productive, but that has little to do with ecological reality. There’s no shortage of labor but there are limits on the inputs industrial agriculture depends on.

                1. OIFVet

                  Yep, this describes many countries in Eastern and Southern Europe as well. Especially given the longer growing seasons in the south, the yield from these small plots is exceptional, and diverse. See Lyman Alpha Blob’s link on Istanbul’s small plots. It’s still the norm in Bulgarian villages to grow all of one’s own food, his or her children’s families, and then have some to sell at the town market, from a 300-500 square meters plot that includes the house, an orchard, and livestock. It’s what fed Bulgaria during communism, as the collective farms’ production was almost entirely exported to the COMECON, whether fresh or preserved. Ask any Russian of a certain age about Bulgarian peppers ;) My late paternal grandpa was famous for having the earliest tomato crops, and quite bountiful to boot. He did that with little more than some wood boughs and plastic sheeting for his greenhouse, and rich home made compost. That, and his livestock, is how he made his living and kept us all in fresh food. The communists were pretty much running a version of NEP to allow the villagers to sell as capitalists to the town folk so they could export the collective farm production. We never lacked for fruits, veggies, and meat, and all of it came from our grandparents in the village.

                  Its anything but idyllic. Its hard work, but it sure grows more products at higher yields from smaller plots. And it doesn’t destroy the soil or pollute the groundwater. The only chemical I ever saw my grandpa use was some copper concoction to spray his vines, which in turn kept him in wine :)

            2. Yves Smith

              You are out of your mind. Most people who buy organic food are not doing it for spiritual reasons. They are doing it for heath reasons, as they they want to avoid pesticides and other chemicals. And that goes double for animal products and farmed fish, since any compound that is fat soluble will be in much higher concentrations higher up the food chain. That is why it isn’t prudent to eat tuna (at top predator) and most freshwater fish in the US any more, due to mercury concentrations. People want to avoid the hormones in meats and the pesticides and other chemicals used in industrial food production.

              1. Mell Pell

                If everybody eats like you than everybody will die. This is simple mathematics. I’m proposing an alternative that I think is pretty much the opposite of organic agriculture, but will produce healthful food that can feed the world. This seems so obvious to me and yet I have such a hard time convincing people.

                Whether you realize it or not, Permaculture and Organic is a cult. I used to live near a vineyard that practiced Bio-dynamics. They had a shaman swing by once in a while and bless the field. It was necessary to stay in compliance.

                1. OIFVet

                  This seems so obvious to me and yet I have such a hard time convincing people

                  That’s a common problem that all wannabe cult leaders face. Don’t despair, it’s hard work but if you succeed Jim Jones will look like an amateur.

                2. Ned Ludd

                  Biodynamic agriculture is only one type of organic farming. If you have a mathematics book handy, I would recommend the chapter that explains the concept of a subset.

                  What is the energy subsidy required for your alternative non-organic agriculture? The traditional wet rice culture of Thailand, Burma, China, and Indonesia required less than 0.1 calories of energy for every calorie of food produced (Figure 5). The U.S. food system used one calorie of energy to produce one calorie of food in 1910 (Figure 4); but by 1970, the U.S. food system required nine calories of energy to produce just one calorie of food.

                3. Chief Bromden

                  Shock Jock Trolling isn’t delivering the pay check? You need to rework your resume. The label “Organic” has been co-opted and those practicing permaculture know it, so they aren’t synonymous in any way except for an attempt to avoid industrial chemicals. Permaculture is the time-tested definition of science. I highly doubt you know anything about permaculture principles. Please… 5 minutes with Geoff Lawton.

                  A for effort but there’s a troll feed shortage around here.

                4. Lambert Strether Post author

                  Doing a lot of conflating there, pal. Permaculuture and capital-O organic aren’t the same thing. At all. And I know both with some intimacy, because Maine was very very early in both. As for bio-dynamics, I don’t believe in it, and only a small fraction of small-p permaculturalists do. Anyhow, I don’t see it as being crazier than, oh, name any major religion. As for “compliance,” wowsers. Must be a California thing. (I’m guessing the state from the winery.) I’ve never heard of such a thing for permanculture, and if you think a shaman is needed to get capital-O Organic certification, you’ve got reality issues.

              2. mark

                Scientific American

                ” fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.”


            3. Ned Ludd

              I was a worker-owner at the last worker grocery co-op in my area. I worked on the early-morning produce shift, washing produce as farmers dropped it off. Farmers arrived with locally grown, in-season fruit and vegetables. The produce was organic because people did not want to be poisoned by industrial agriculture – including the farmers.

              At 6 o’clock in the morning, while dunking my hands in ice cold water to rinse the lettuce fresh off of the farmer’s truck, I do not recall much talk of spirituality.

              1. OIFVet

                Wot, no chanting and tree hugging, no ukuleles and drums, no fire dancing and mescal vision quests? You are harshing his mellow, dude!

                1. Ned Ludd

                  The cleansing ritual of the leafy greens. Someday I will post instructions, so this important tradition is not lost to time.

        2. jgordon

          I said nothing about structured water at all. Perhaps you have an inability to accurately read things and reason critically is pervasive in all your thinking and arguments.

          You said asinine and untrue things about permaculture and science. Like, not subtly untrue–but blatantly false to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the subjects. They had to be refuted lest those who don’t have such passing knowledge (admittedly the overwhelming majority of Americans for example) take your comment seriously.

          In fact reading over the Wikipedia page just now..

          Sorry but I have strict policy against bullying the weak and/or disabled. Thinking is just not your forte, and for the sake of your ego I’d recommend in the future that you not expose your thoughts where they might be seen and commented on by a critical audience.

          1. Mell Pell

            Your failure to distance yourself from one of the more extreme versions of Anthroposophy will speak volumes to those not already sold on your cult.

    2. Pepsi

      Characterizing permaculture as un-efficacious is strange. Permaculture isn’t really meant to be super high yield like industrial farming, it’s more about saving labor and not having to use many outside inputs.

    3. Lee

      A few years ago I researched the possibility of starting a small commercial aquaponics operation in California. Unfortunately, going up against vegetable producers using cheap water and cheap labor and the relative abundance of cheap imported fish made it uncompetitive at that time, given our need to produce income in the short term. What with the drought and the continuing collapse of fisheries, this could and should change.

      One source of further information:

    4. OIFVet

      Earth itself was one giant permaculture garden. Within it it had aquaponics spaces called wetlands, mangroves, etc. Some cult, huh?

      1. Mell Pell

        If the earth had the same number of people as existed 10,000 years ago, this would be perfect. That was about five million people all together. But today we need to support seven billion. so the question becomes how do we shrink down this natural system without discarding the essential features that make it work. To my mind the important point is that this was never a closed system to begin with. Nutrients are lost more or less permanently all the time. This means in a small home system ( or indeed in a large commercial system ) we need to add nutrients and other chemicals to approximate the natural environment. If you are willing to let go of the idea that the earth, land and especially water has a soul that needs to be appeased or respected like an angry god, you can actually proceed to feed your family, friends and neighbors.

        1. OIFVet

          Great strawman. Much easier to fight your battles this way, innit? Yes, the Earth was never a closed system: it received and continues to receive solar energy. Your “closed” system relies on it too. No, I don’t think that the soil and water have soil. They have utility, and my aim is to maximize that utility without destroying it and the ecosystem and the climate. This I do by using compost rather than by extracting fossil fuels. And while the Earth may have had five million inhabitants, it could and did support more. But it can not support infinite number of humans, and your “solutions” and self-righteous championing of “7 billion lives” in the end will cost the lives of us all, as well as most other species. All driven vy your science, which in its drive to overcome nature in the name of corporate profit has become no different than any other cult.

          1. jo6pac

            OlFVet I do believe your are talking to a true believer and member of the bill & melinda gates gmo food cult;)

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          “If you are willing to let go of the idea that the earth, land and especially water has a soul that needs to be appeased or respected like an angry god”

          Match for that straw?

  6. Eclair

    I garden in two zones: Denver and Chautauqua County, NY. We live in a south suburban Denver, in an HOA, which has sent us admonitory letters about: a pile of ‘dirt’ in the driveway (compost) and brown grass during the drought last year (this year, of course, we have had inches of lovely rain).

    Our lot is tiny, just narrow walkways on the sides of the house, and handkerchief-sized lawns on the front and back. I have eliminated lawn in the back, with a combination of digging up grass … before I ‘discovered’ sheet-mulching, the lazy-woman’s gift from the earth goddess … and laying down a path of pine needles and building up the sides with small ‘berms’ of tree and bush branches, so that the water collects in the long, shallow depression. I don’t put out any leaves or prunings in the trash, unlike my neighbors, whose Monday morning curbsides are awash in bags of leaves, grass-clippings and bundles of dutifully trimmed to 4 feet long twigs and branches. They have remarked numerous times that we don’t seem to have any ‘trash.’

    While the back yard faces south and can overwinter hardy greens, like arugula and kale, it becomes a shady paradise as soon as all the neighbor’s trees leaf out. So, not good for veggies gardening.

    The front yard has a long narrow strip between our driveway and the neighbor’s laws, which was planted with useless bushes that just sat there and looked mournful. Over the past 8 years, I have replaced them with a collection of drought tolerant, but colorful perennials: iris, day lilies, sages, peony, marguerites and a pampered old rose. I try out bulbs: daffodils were a failure, but crocus and tulips seems to like it. Right now, it’s all pretty colorful.

    That leaves a patch of grass in the front of the house. Our neighbors have their patches herbicided, pesticided, fertilized and aerated by a chemical company. They cut it back with gas-powered mowers and bag up the clippings in plastic bags. I dig out the dandelions with an old knife, and throw on some compost and grass seed. My husband mows it with a push mower in 10 minutes and lets the clippings lie there.

    In April, I removed a 4-foot wide strip of lawn along the front sidewalk from service, using strip mulching. Cardboard boxes, a 4 inch layer of compost (purchased in bags), and a thick layer of hay (which is now producing grass!), all well-watered. Then the heavens opened up and the mulched area was well-watered for 6 weeks. Glorious! Yesterday, I put in 6 tomato plants that should thrive because they get sun for almost all day.

    Back in Chautauqua County, NY, we don’t have a water shortage problem … usually. My husband inherited a family house with three acres, half in lawn and half in a distressingly neglected wood lot. Plans are to move there when he retires .. at least for the spring, summer and fall. Winters? I would rather spend winters in Lapland. So, in April, I spent 2 weeks planting a small orchard in the side field: 8 twigs that will become (I have Faith!) 4 apple, 2 cherry and 2 plum trees. My brother-in-law rotovated the grass around them in a rectangle (I suggested that Nature doesn’t do straight lines, but he likes things geometric) and I threw in some alfalfa seed (free from our cousin the farmer) and a package of bee-attracting wild-flower seed. I mulched each teeny tree with rocks (the soil is a bit shaley and we unearthed a tolerable amount of flat rocks) and wood chips, before caging each one to protect from the browsing deer (although our neighbor has leased his fields to a local dairy farmer, who last year planted 20 acres of field corn ….. the deer were in deer -heaven. Why nibble on some twig that has only a few leaves?)

    The, much to my brother-in-law’s disgust, I dragged tree branches (I bought my very own chain-saw and am trimming the line of old pine and spruce trees that have grown up and intertwined and are cutting off the southern sun) and made a brush pile at the corner of the rotovated area. So the birds have a place to perch. And maybe a snake can take up residence. Or butterflies can lay eggs. A little orchard mini-ecosystem.

    There are plans for willows along the marshy strip where a spring emerges (well, part of it is the septic tank outlet) and a big asparagus bed and current, gooseberry and blackberry bushes. And, maybe a local forester to take a look at the woodlot and mark trees so I can begin thinning out.

    I am hoping that some of this will attract the eyes of our neighbors, who all have acres of lawn which they fertilize and cut and repeat, sitting on their riding mowers, suburban cowboys. And, maybe in a few years, we will have a few more small orchards, wildflower fields, bees, butterflies, snakes. Death to lawns!

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      You could send me some pictures for Water Cooler; see the contact information at the bottom. This all sounds lovely.

      “Let no organic matter leave the property!”

      1. Susan

        Same here – quarter acre lot with house and garage taking up much of it. Two big silver maples and a 7 story pin oak. No biomass leaves the property. In fact, there’s a guy who cuts lawns in the hood and I save him driving cut grass further by inviting him to put the bags on my front lawn. He knows – no chemlawn cuttings are to be left here. ;) I distribute the grass clippings around the beds and have managed to make what was once solid clay into crumbly, wormy rich soil that absorbs much more water when we have rain. Yes – sheet mulching – cardboard or newspaper – whatever is at hand.

        Front yard of the neighbor’s house has sun and what is grown there – flowers and veggies is open to browsing and harvest by all contiguous neighbors since I can’t possibly eat it all. From time to time, I post “come and get it” to our nextdoor site – when plants go crazy and need to be harvested. I also save and share seeds and dig out and share volunteer seedlings. There’s just no way I have room for 90 tomato volunteers to get to their full potential. But they come – year after year. Be gone, I say – reseed somewhere else. To no avail – leave 4 and get the exponential growth the financial markets refuse to deliver.

        Also fruit tree guilds – peach, cherry, apple, apricot all being nurtured with daffs, garlic and stands of comfrey. They are finicky and a late frost takes ’em out some years. But they are all fruiting this year.

        The flower in between the veggies help people to not wince at the look of the gardens.

        Yesterday we put a teepee in the front yard for beans and cardinal climber vines (to feed the hummingbirds). It looks pretty bare at this point, but hopefully I won’t be run out of town on a rail for the structure before it turns into a blooming green cone with the dangling edible jewelry that is the mighty bean!

        Doing all this in the Grant Deming Forest Hill Neighborhood of Cleveland Heights Ohio – a streetcar suburb that announced last week that they want to privatize our municipal water. OH MY GOODNESS! No!

        And yeah – gutters are a pain in the ass, but I have ’em and need ’em.

        Oh and I almost forgot to say – three year old hugelkultur in front yard at sidewalk edge to retain water on a teeny tiny triangle of grass. I water in seedlings and then stop. Barely any water used outside here. Last week’s addition – herb garden to replace grass on the treelawn. I’ll be posting – help yourself with harvesting instructions) on the way back from the grocer for oregano, thyme, cilantro, parsley, basil, sage and rosemary in a few days. Best ROI I’ve experienced to date – gardening.

  7. Dan Lynch

    Water development is a big deal in Idaho. If not for wells and canals and dams, much of Idaho would still be a so-called “wasteland.”

    The water table in my ‘hood is 1000 feet deep, and even if you can afford a 1000’ well, the water is poor quality and has to be extensively treated.

    So I collect rainwater into cisterns. Ultra-low consumption toilet, ultra-low flow showerhead. Forget about baths or dishwashers, in fact I don’t even rinse dishes. I average about 5 gallons per day water consumption in the house. 2 gallons to wash dishes, 2 gallons to shower, and one gallon to flush.

    The best low-consumption washing machine is the wringer washer that your great grandma used. You filled it with water then proceeded to wash several loads with the same tub of water. Forget about a rinse cycle — just use a liquid detergent that smells good. By the way, you can still buy wringer washers. They serve a purpose.

    You can’t grow a garden here without irrigation. I’ve tried very small garden plots, hand watered with a watering can nearly every day, but it was never enough and I finally abandoned it. But …. the people who homesteaded this area 100 years ago did grow large gardens and orchards successfully, and they didn’t have irrigation, either, heck they didn’t even have plumbing. It’s almost as if the climate were different back then, eh?

    I have planted tree seedlings on my property, the native ponderosa pine which is drought tolerant once established, but needs to be babied for the first few years. I used to haul in barrels of water from a spring 10 miles away to water the seedlings. Last year I added a 1700 gallon cistern for the barn, hopefully it’ll eliminate most of the hauling.

    In the summer, greywater is diverted into a 5 gallon bucket and used to water tree seedlings. So yeah, I pretty much wrote the book on the frugal water lifestyle.

    At the state level, water rights are big deal. The existing water rights, claimed by farmers and utilities, are based on stream flows 100 years ago. Well, for some strange reason the climate has changed and stream flows are not what they used to be, so farmers compensate by drilling more and deeper wells. They’re pumping it out faster than mother nature replenishes it, so water tables are dropping, and it’s obviously not sustainable, though it may take a hundred years or so to play out.

    Stream flows are greatly reduced due to diversions for irrigation, so stream quality sucks. The Snake River is pretty much a sewer in some stretches. Even the Salmon absorbs a lot of polluted run off from cattle feedlots. It’s pretty sad.

    1. Eclair

      Thanks, Dan, for your mini-seminar on water in Idaho, or lack there-of, and how to live with it. Colorado is much the same. And Denver is in the midst of a building boom, apartments going up everywhere, all relying on piped in-water and piped-out waste. And every horizontal surface that’s not occupied by a building, is concreted-over. How this is all going to play out in 30 to 50 years is depressing to consider.

      Which is one reason why we are retiring to Western NY, in spite of the miserable winters. There is water. Well, it might be polluted by leaking gas wells, but it’s there. Even so, it’s not an infinite supply.

      I remember reading in one of Jared Diamond’s books, about the Scandinavian settlers in Greenland (?), who insisted on holding to their ‘civilized’ european mode of agriculture, clothing, housing, etc. In spite of the example of their ‘uncivilized’ indigenous neighbors who had evolved clothing, shelter and food sources that enabled them to fit in with the land and the climate over centuries. The europeans, decimated by disease and hunger and cold, finally gave up and left. I think of the American West, populated by Indigenous peoples who had developed, over thousands of years, a way of living and thriving in a region devoid of heavy rainfall. Maybe more us ‘civilized’ euro-settlers/invaders/occupiers should consider ‘going native’ if we want ourselves and our descendants to survive.

      1. Gio Bruno

        That Jared Diamond book was “Collapse: How Society’s Choose to Succeed or Fail”. While the early Greenland nordics didn’t handle the climate change of their era very well, The book also discusses pacific islanders who succesfully managed population control by elders self-disappearing out at sea.

        Diamond is always a good read!

      2. Mel

        Vilhjalmur Stefansson entertained a theory that the Greenland colonies never died out at all — they eventually realized that farming was for losers, joined the Eskimos and never looked back. I prefer that story, but it’s very probable that the archaeology is on Diamond’s side.
        Just lately I was given a book: Pleasant Valley, by Louis Bromfield. It’s not completely a comfortable read — seems very precious at points, and LB describes a role for himself rather like the big landlord in J.H.Kunstler’s World Made by Hand novels. However, he’s an eyewitness to the condition of Ohio farming before the 1940’s, in the aftermath of short-timeframe frontier development.
        One theme is kind of nutrition-as-destiny. He discusses some long-term dealings with some families of no-account hill people, and identifies their problem as, basically, starvation. Four or five generations of business as usual on their farms had stripped out the nutrients left by a thousand years of forests, put nothing back in, and was proceeding to kill the farmers .. slowly .. by mineral deficiencies chiefly.

      3. Lambert Strether Post author

        I read the Jared Diamond book too. They starved to death in Greenland, in the midst of the richest fishing grounds in the world, because “civilized people don’t eat fish.” They starved so badly that they even ate their horses hooves, in addition to shoes, belts, etc.

        1. Eclair

          The settlers must have thought all fish had to be converted to lutefisk. Better to die than to have to eat it!

  8. lyman alpha blob

    Always appreciate the gardening tips. Also a 5Ber and trying a version of sheet mulching for the first time. I’m looking for weed control more than upgrading my soil. For several years I only had some sort of succulent ground covers and crabgrass as weeds which were easy enough to pull out by hand and my soil is pretty fertile as our house sits on what used to be a farm 100 years or so ago. The first year I planted here everything came up great and I added manure/compost every year after that. Last year however i got an awful crop of some type of grass that outgrew a lot of my plants. It was so pervasive that I couldn’t pull it out without pulling out my seedlings along with it and I just gave up after a while.

    This year I tilled in my manure-based compost before planting as usual and I’m using the newspaper/hay method for weed control as I can already see the same nasty grass trying to sprout and I’m hoping the sheet mulch will kill it off. I’ve spread it around my tomatoes and broccoli already but I’m going to give the more difficult method a shot with the veggies I planted from seed. I’m still waiting for all my greens, cukes, corn, etc to sprout before trying to lay the sheets down between those rows. I’m hoping that the hay will shade the seedlings somewhat too and keep them from burning up if it gets especially sunny – I noticed yesterday that some of the first cuke seedlings coming up were already looking a little burnt from the steady sun over the last couple days even though I’d made sure to keep them watered.

    I did wet down the paper/hay as soon as I spread it but I’m finding it dries out pretty rapidly and come home to find some of the newspaper blown around the yard. I put it down 4-6 sheets thick but maybe that isn’t enough? I’ve started putting rocks around the edges to weight it down but maybe once the rest of the plants come up and I lay the remaining sheet mulch down and the whole garden is covered it will be less susceptible to wind getting under the edges.

    One drawback – I am using old hay rather than straw since that’s what I had easily available from my relatives’ farm. To be on the safe side I am planning to throw the hay into my weed/tree branch pile at the end of the season rather than leaving it on the garden and replacing one crop of grass with another.

    I’ve read about all kinds of different sheet mulching methods with various different layers added in different orders – some with compost on top of the paper and others with it underneath. From what I’ve been able to gather there are two main reasons for using this method – building up and maintaining your topsoil and for weed control. At first I couldn’t figure out what exactly would be best (and I’m still not 100% sure) but a little bell went off when I heard one person mention that roots of your vegetables would eventually penetrate the paper. So my rationale is that if you have decent soil already, paper and straw are good enough if you just want weed control, but if you are trying to build up soil so you can plant where veggies wouldn’t grow well otherwise, you can use the full lasagna method. I saw one video where the gardener did this on what looked to be a patch of hard gravel and had great topsoil going after just 2-3 years.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      It sounds like you’re working on a much bigger scale than I am. I find that when I soak the paper, and lay down enough straw, and then soak the straw, one time only when I lay it down, it seems to hang together and not blow around. But I’m not in a windy area.

  9. PhilK

    Something macro rather than micro here, but not off-topic, I hope.

    This morning, for some unknown reason, I got curious about Uzbekistan, and read the Wikipedia article. (And now I’m an expert! /s)

    My main take-away from the article: Back when Uzbekistan was a republic in the Soviet Union, they instituted a large-scale project to emulate California-style agriculture, which seemed at the time to be very successful. And now, at least partly because of this project and its cotton fields and water-pumping, all of Uzbekistan’s lakes are rapidly turning into salt flats.

    Yet another victim of California dreamin’ — but it seemed like such a good idea at the time!

    1. craazyboy

      In the SW we have always prided ourselves in our terraforming abilities. It’s why some people think we are going to Mars. But when the population goes from 20 million to 40 million in CA alone, you can see the end of the growth curve looming.

      1. danny

        To be fair, California can support that level of population growth. What it can’t support are all the traditional (i.e. “current”) uses for water.

    2. nippersdad

      I remember way back when I was a kid and the Aral Sea was on a geography test; all but gone now. It is not just the salt, much of it having come from overfertilization of fields with oil based fertilizers, but also the incredible amount of pesticides that they had used which poisoned both the sea/sea bed and the areas around it that had previously been farmed. I hear that their sand storms are now toxic.

      Sad. Hopefully that will not be in California’s future.

  10. Isolato

    We live on a small island in NW WA State in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mtns. We get maybe 15 in. a year, about like LA! Too rocky for a well, we collect rainwater from our roofs, purify it through a 3 stage filter sediment/activated charcoal/UV exposure. We have a couple small greenhouses that help us manage water (and deer!) w/drip irrigation systems and inside we have a composting toilet. The kitchen waste, our fireplace ashes and the output of the composting toilet make an excellent compost. Like Dan Lynch (above) our water use averages about 5 gallons/day. When I lived in Seattle our house consumed (w/two teenage daughters) we averaged about 200 gal./day

    1. danny

      I second this recommendation. It gives a brief, excellent summary about why the whole water system in the West is a mess.

  11. Art Eclectic

    I garden in Southern California. We use gutters here just fine with screens over the top :)

    I collect up used coffee grounds for mulch, if you ask your local coffee house they will give you a bag at the end of the day, but you might have competition. For our heavy clay soil the used coffee grounds filter down into the clay as they break down and add much needed organic matter to the soil.

    1. Steve H.

      I had a recent wow when the simple dog decided to dig hole a couple of feet deep, about three feet away from the 15+-year old hugelkultur. What was pure red terra rosa clay was completely black and even somewhat crumbly. I set my mounds near fruit trees so that they could send roots to the nutrients, but had no idea about the lateral spread from the mound itself.

  12. Ron

    Living in Northern Calif I long ago removed lawns from my property and focused on native plants and a small veggie garden. When I moved into my existing home I converted the front lawn into a combination veggie and flower garden, shocking neighbors. Several neighbors have now adopted similar front yard ideas so that lawns are quickly becoming a thing of the the past on our street. The soil is heavy adobe and underneath is solid sandstone so its needs considerable additives to make it suitable for growing anything other the weeds. There is a horse stable near by
    which uses both straw and redwood shavings for bedding combined with the horse manure provides a excellent additive to adobe soils but it needs to be applied semiannually as adobe soil naturally consumes anything organic. This year I added a 30 plant strawberry patch using UC Davis patented Seascape plants which are adapted to my coastal area and produce high volume of nice fruit. I also planted horsehair millet enough to feed wild birds in the winter months plus a few tomato plants.
    Overall I have gotten a very favorable response from local’s about the front yard as many people have gotten tired of the lawn care and see little need to continue maintaining them but those folks who moved from the midwest and East to Calif tend to hold onto their lawns and resist any effort to convince them of possible alternative ideas.

    1. jo6pac

      For Ron and Art.

      Heavy clay/adobe soils you can use gypsum it works great and won’t harm the soil. The powder form works fastest but pellets are great if you get thme down before/during winter. Use around shrubs it will help the roots pick the food they need.

    2. Rhondda

      My mother-in-law lives in Independence, Mo and she has done this. In fact, she had a small stroke recently, so I just got home from pulling out the trumpet vine and golden rod, which will take over if you sit down too long ;-). Right now she has great swathes of yellow ragged-edged flowers of which I forget the name, blue cornflowers like little explosions and floppy red poppies. In a few weeks it’ll give way to purple coneflowers and four o’clocks and other summer comers. She has a sign up in her yard, like a street sign, green with white letters, that says THE YARDEN. She told me that two decades ago the City Fathers looked askance at her lack of “proper” grass and she had no end of civic hassle. Now people slam on their brakes and shout “It’s gorgeous!” or pull up on their Harley and thank her for “making beauty” in their city. Happened 3x while I was there. It gives her great pride and is an oppty to meet neighbors. All good.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        That’s great. Last year was the first year people would stop and take photographs of mine. Hoping for a lot more when the wildflowers really kick in.

    1. OIFVet

      Thanks for the link. It reminds me just how closely intertwined Bulgaria is with our southern neighbor and former colonial master: we call our gardens bostans and marul is, to me, probably the tastiest lettuce variety for my taste, perfect with a touch of vinegar, fresh beets, and green onions. These bostans are amazingly productive given their size; my granny at almost 90 grows and preserves enough fruits and veggies for three families. Most of it she gives away to others who can no longer grow their own food. A real shame that development is destroying this institution in Istanbul. A couple of years ago there were massive street clashes there over Erdogan’s destruction of parks as well, that were brutally put down.

  13. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thanks for this piece and your others on creative horticulture and conservation practices, Lambert. The posts, along with related reading and gardening endeavors, have helped stay “grounded” in this era when artificial and complex constructs abound. There is something therapeutic about plants and the dirt, although I have no idea why given that human cognition largely remains that of hunter-gatherers.

  14. William Kidder

    A reason to expect US interference in South America is the Guarani Aquifer. This aquifer is located beneath Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay and is one of the world’s largest aquifer systems. Because it is an important source of fresh water, this important natural resource is rapidly becoming politicized, and the control of the resource becomes ever more controversial. Look for trouble in Paraguay first.

    1. Rhondda

      I’ve read that the Bush crime family own massive amounts of land on top of this aquifer, in Paraguay.

      1. jo6pac

        Yes they did with their good friend rev. moon but sadly for them the right-wing govt. is gone and has been replaced with a socialist one. If they go there they might be arrested for war crimes and that works for me and other than they’ll never be able to do anything as long as this type govt. of and for the people is in place.

      1. nippersdad


        Should you wish to seed into a permaculture bed: You would want to do just as you already are, but prior to laying out your mulch you would build rows of small berms (or hills, depending on the crop) three or four inches tall across the garden with the (soil tested!) dirt you have had brought in. Mulch right up to them and then do your seeding on the tops of the berms/hills. When it comes time to start thinning your seedlings, after they have hardened off, you can then mulch between the seedlings along the top of your berm. It should all end up pretty level with no perceivable lumps/rows. At the end of the season, the berms should be destroyed when you pull up the plants for your compost heap and you should be left with a fairly level area for planting the next year.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          That’s an awesome tip. Thanks. You know, though, I just hate thinning seedlings and mulching between them. There’s something about the fine motor work that gives me the shudders. I don’t know why, because I weed my flower beds by pulling out weeds of similar size.

    2. craazyboy

      Ya, cocaine, bottled water…it’s all the same to rich people. Only problem is they don’t really like rich gringos in S. America. At least once you stuck your money somewhere you can’t easily get it back from..

  15. jgordon

    Just some general points:

    Everyone’s situation is different and every plot of land is different. As permaculture designers our dirty secret is that when someone employs us to do a design, we design first for care of the earth and the community, and secondly we incorporate the stated goals of the client into the design. In fact, that orientation is why someone should care to employ a permaculture designer in the first place–because of care for the earth and care for people. As far as designs go, there is no “correct” answer (but there can definitely be wrong answers).

    If you want to apply permaculture to water conservation (I shouldn’t have to say that water use is an integral consideration for any design), there are a whole host of techniques permaculturists have adopted to choose from. Which of those techniques you decide to employ entirely depends on the environment and your goals. Hugelkultur, sheet mulching, swales, cisterns, etc, are all perfectly valid. And at the same time they are techniques that are not always applicable. For example, many new permaculture designers want to use swales all over the place to store water in the ground, but there are plenty of situations where swales are a bad idea. Yet they’ll persist and cause some unfortunate consequences later on. Permaculture is not a set of must-use techniques; permaculture is a philosophy. To create a system that efficiently conserves and recycles water using permaculture, start with the ethical and philosophical principles of permaculture first, and then work down towards the details of water use from there.

    Another integral idea to permaculture is the idea of ecological succession. More advanced ecological systems (let’s not confuse the word “advanced” with “better”) tend to recycle and use resources more efficiently than systems at earlier stages of succession. Translated into water use, this would mean that a diversified forest ecosystem (later stage succession) would generally have much more efficient water use than a grassland ecosystem (early stage succession). Though as a general principle it’s a good idea to have ecological systems in close proximity to each other at varying stages of succession in a shifting, mosaic pattern. So don’t take that as an admonition to turn your entire yard into a forest in order to conserve water.

    However that vegetable garden did look a bit mono-culturish to my eye. Just for the sake of argument, you may take a cue from Masanobu Fukuoka and use white clover (just an example–I have no idea if it’s applicable to your situation at all) as an edible ground cover instead of mulch and have the added benefit a nitrogen fixation as well as soil-protection.

    As far as the more advanced water conservation goes, the Greening the Desert Part 2 video is a good place to start. Along with some comments from Dmitry Orlov, it was originally that video posted on NC that got me to take my first permaculture design course a couple of years ago. Being able to turn one of the driest and most desolate/denuded places in the world into a functioning, self-sustaining forest ecosystem should be illustrative of just what is possible with permaculture philosophy.

    1. nippersdad

      Excellent points! Not all situations are suitable for all methods. I have seen people really screw up their soil because they read something interesting and then applied it in an inappropriate area. It can take a lot longer to fix something than it would have otherwise taken to clear up the problem you started out with if you are not careful.

      Ex’s.: sand + clay = concrete, mulching over perpetually damp areas = anaerobic acid soil conditions (sour soil), bark mulch neither amends the soil nor is it efficient for retaining soil moisture, etc., etc., etc.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      The idea of relating succession to efficiency is really interesting. On the beds, yeah, that’s more monocultural, I must admit (though I rotate the beds). But the soil is very much improved. I never thought of using clover for that purpose, but wouldn’t it overwhelm the seedlings? I do in fact use white clover around the borders of the various garden soils; stacking my functions: (a) clover grows so fast it crowds out most weeds, so I save labor from weeding; (b) improve nitrogen fixing; (c) flowers attract pollinators; (d) serves as bait for deer! I’ve come out in the morning and seen that they’ve nibbled at the edges, then gone away satisfied and not gone inside to the vegetables.

      A very nice comment indeed. Readers, I commend jgordon to your attention as a permacultural exponent; as you can see, it’s very pragmatic, very close to the ground. And not a cult, I might add. (And I’m very pleased that a post of mine had some RL influence, for good!)

      1. jgordon

        It’s not permaculture per se, but I’d recommend Masanobu Fukuoka’s books on his natural farming methods. “Sowing Seeds in the Desert” is incredibly moving, and “One Straw Revolution” was a revelation. There is some intriguing exposition about how he used white clover directly intermingled with production crops in those pages. Unfortunately my climate is near-tropical so I have no direct experience with white clover, though after I read up on it I thought it might do well in your region.

  16. craazyman

    Here in New york we have water everywhere. We’re surrounded by an ocean, a bay, a harbor and two rivers. it’s an island in fact. You can even smell the water sometimes. Whew! It’s pretty bad when it smells.

    If you want clean water You can get it out of the tap in your kitchen or at a grocery store, in a plastic or glass bottle. Or at a restaurant, in a pitcher or in individual glasses, or in fancy bottles if you pay extra. We also have water fountains in public parks. There is no shortage of alternatives, that’s for sure.

    If you want vegetables, they sell them everywhere. The only water problem we’ll have here is being underwater —- if they’re right about rising sea levels and the antarctic ice sheet or superstorms, like Sandy. That could be inconvenient, since alot of New York would be underwater. It’s very hard to get water when you’re underwater. That seems like a paradox, but it’s a fact.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Well, Cuomo, bless his heart, was smart to ban fracking, assuming New York’s reservoirs might be impacted. Also, aren’t the pipes that bring your water from the reservoirs about as old as that tunnel under the Hudson?

  17. Paul Tioxon

    I was just going to lend some light contribution because I’m out of the gardening game. Neil Young has a great new album coming out and here is a preview. It’s an anti-GMO song, “Monsanto, Let our farmers grow!” But, I didn’t expect the trench warfare usually reserved for discussing solar energy with OILBOTS. Yeah, we’re all gonna die if we join a hippee cult! Cult cult cult. Scientism, the cultic belief in the absolute certainty of the scientific method to the exclusion of any other human attempts to make sense and bring order to our brief but utterly delicious lives on earth.

    Peace and Love You’ll pry my organic Costco Carrots from my cold dead hands!!

    And Yves, he has a song after your own heart. Too Big to Fail.

    1. Mel

      Nice. Pleasant Valley (mentioned above) has a chapter on Edward H. Faulkner, author of Ploughman’s Folly. He’s a kindred spirit to the Kaisers, from a bit before.

  18. Lambert Strether Post author

    Pictures please! All these interesting projects! You can find my contact info at the bottom of Water Cooler.

    It also sounds like I should do another post on a similar topic mid-summer, so everybody has an excuse to talk about their projects.

  19. Chris B

    Water isn’t too big a problem for me, due to a combination of what I grow and where I live. The Midlands of England, while a bit cold and miserable sometimes, do have quite a bit of rain, and the population pressure is lower than in the South East so water restrictions are uncommon.

    I also mostly plant shrubs, trees and herbaceous perennial plants, which are normally capable of looking after themselves once established. Very dense plantings actually help in my experience, since when the ground is in deep shade it dries out slowly even taking into account the increased demand for water from the plants. I don’t really formally mulch except for initial clearance of terrible weeds such as grass, but I leave the leaves of trees and the stems of the perennials to decompose in-situ over winter, which is more or less the same thing.

    That means that my watering is mostly restricted about 1/4 of the garden covering:

    1. The greenhouse
    2. The annual veg beds
    3. Any new plants that are still getting established (I practice a “coddle for the first year the survival of the fittest” gardening methodology”)

    At the moment I use mains water for this, but I have installed a few small water butts and I plan to capture the water from the roof of our “garage”. This is a 50 m2 single story building mostly used for storage, and I reckon that a few thousand litre storage tanks attached to the gutters should decrease significantly my mains water usage. It seems silly and wasteful to use clean chlorinated water for plants when they’re happier with the dirty stuff that falls out the sky.

    Finally, some comments on permaculture. I think there’s a lot to admire in permaculture, but I wouldn’t call my self a permaculture practitioner because I too do perceive cultishness often in the self-identified permaculturists I meet. While most of the theory about holistic thinking might be fine, in practice many people seem to turn it into blind faith in a limited set of techniques that may or may not work in specific circumstances.

    There are also some things permaculturists say that are clearly wrong. Take the following common quote:

    As Bill Mollison says: “The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited, or, limited only by the information and imagination of the designer.” Put another way, ‘obtain a yield’ is not something we do once, but rather an approach to how we run our homes and design our settlements. Its a creative process and means that we are always looking to see how we can make an improvement here, add another species there.

    This is clearly incorrect from a physical point of view. Yield is limited, no matter how diverse the outputs are or how many you find. Even if you find new ways to increase yield, these are typically subject to declining returns, so that what you actually end up with is an asymptotic limit, i.e. an infinite series that nevertheless sums to a finite number. This kind of magical spiritual thinking is quite common in permaculture circles.

    I’m not saying permaculture is bad. It has a lot to recommend it, especially compared to current mainstream thinking. What I am saying is that I agree that there are some elements of the community, possibly >50%, who do treat it like a religion to follow rather than an approach that should be practically evaluated. At least in my neck of the woods.

  20. Weatherwax

    I don’t think anybody’s come up with a better system than Ruth Stout, author of “Gardening Without Work.” You can find her core ideas on the Mother Earth News website.

    Every new idea tends to take awhile to work out the bugs, gardening pun not intended. Every system has its extremists. One person might favor straw over hay, another vice-versa, some swear by fish compost while another person may have a friend with a couple of horses and plenty of manure. Nature is flexible. Lots of ideas work.


    When somebody starts describing the goal of sustainable agriculture as a “cult,” I smell a corporate sockpuppet. Just whose interests are you supporting, here? I’d say Monsanto is far more like a “cult” in that it tends to attempt to prevent its captive audience from getting any information that might point out the hazards. Who are you really speaking for?

    1. Chris B

      I can’t speak for others here, but I agree with many of the goals of permaculture (eg sustainability) and its criticisms of industrial agriculture while also seeing the cultishness and resemblances to religion.

      In my experience most permaculturists get fixated on copying a few methods used by leaders in the community (e.g. forest gardens, hulgelkultur) regardless of their applicability. Forest gardens aren’t much good unless your natural climax vegetation is forest, and hugelkultur isn’t any good unless you have acheap supply of low quality wood. If wood is scarse locally then chopping down tree to bury it is probably not very environmentally friendly. But all over the world there are people busy copying these techniques inappropriately because to them permaculture is looking the part and being a member of the right crowd rather than all that stuff about observation and thinking. I guess this may be just human nature, but somehow having expected open minds I’m always disappointed when I actually talk to people into permaculture. And the less said about all the paid courses of limited usefulness, the better. Unless you’re scientologists, you don’t build a popular movement for a profit.

      I also think that there’s an interesting conflict of ideas at the heart of permaculture. A lot of what’s said is wishy washy stuff about yields being limited only by the power of imagination (by Bill Mollison, one of the founders of the movement no less!), yet the heart of the permaculture critique of conventional agriculture is precisely that the world doesn’t conform to human desire, and that trying to make it do so is self destructive. That being the case, why should the world be more kind to humans just because they’re a bit nicer to it? Ultimately, I’m more of a fatalist, and all the hopey changey kumbaya stuff puts me off. I’m all for saving the world, I just don’t expect we can have our cake and eat it too.

  21. annie

    lambert, not sure this will reach you since i am late seeing this thread, but i’m wondering if you put your tomatoes in, flood them in their little wells, and then let them alone for however long it takes for them to show distress–then water again and put down your mulch. i put in plants about a month ago, and have watered only twice in a month. this is in tuscany where it is warm (later, hot) and month of may was dry (this year; last year too wet). tomato roots like grapevines go very deep seeking moisture and if the root gets established this way the plant will be strong. many other orto plants can use a version of this–letting roots reach for the water underneath.

    as for my fluke of a situation, the hill (small mountain?) we live on has water in such abundance that springs run constantly in the woods. my nearest neighbor sells water from his well to people in the valley who increasingly are running out mid-summer.

  22. Oregoncharles

    Wish I’d managed to post earlier. OTOH, I’m pretty spoiled compared to some of you. We’re in the Willamette Valley; our property adjoins a small river (small except when it floods – and we’re in the flood plain), and our aquifer draws on the river, so our well is reliable – so far (knocks wood). So frankly, I’m pretty sloppy about my watering. We do use graywater from the washing machine to water an area of grass, which keeps it out of the septic system; and the septic system waters and fertilizes extensive orchard plantings (haphazard, but I’ll call them “permacultural” for grins.) Well and septic make a semi-closed system: what doesn’t evaporate goes back to the river and thus the aquifer.

    I do mulch as heavily as I can (turns out that collecting multiple tons of leaves wasn’t a great idea at my age), which helps a lot.

    This is a Mediterranean climate, which means that the rain all falls at the wrong time – in the winter. An emphasis on native and Mediterranean plants helps a lot, but vegetables and some fruits have to be watered (grapes and most trees get by once established – but then, they’re mostly Mediterranean.) It’s clay soil with a shallow hardpan, so drainage is as much of a problem as watering.

    I keep meaning to send in garden pictures – missed the chance to make the Easterners really jealous. Gardening is actually my business (now mostly retired), but that doesn’t mean my garden is neat and well-weeded. Or my grass well mowed – grass is the default plant here, unless you let it turn into rain forest. Grass Seed Capital of the world.

  23. juliania

    High mountain desert here – at least it used to be until this spring brought oodles of rain. Water conservation here involves, first of all, soil conservation. (It’s only taken me 20 years to realize this.)

    I didn’t have any (soil, that is – I know, you were thinking something else.) So last year began in earnest to mainly grow soil. Sand and rocks make great drainage but slow soaks don’t do the job if the drips disappear into the stratumsphere (opposite of stratosphere) – even if your roots try to emulate desert plants in following after, as your nutrient additions happily fertilize the nether regions on the way to China. Ain’t gonna work.

    I do a lot of container tubs, start small, then cut bottoms off and sit on larger tubs, often worm farms/compost bins. Use the terra something technique of adding charcoal and potshards once it all turns to usable compost.

    For my back garden: ( I have a wall to keep critters out, except ground squirrels and pack rats but that’s another story.) I steal from foolish neighbors their fall leafbags parked roadside – then in spring cut holes in the bottom, position against wall lovely wall and semicircle with chickenwire soak and add compost, amendments, squash plants. I’ve put some hubbards on the outer south side of wall wonderful wall done this way (my garden is only two small rooms wide). We’ll see if rabbits can climb. There are wild gourds in front they haven’t touched, so hopefully . . .

    Because the sun is so fierce, some I tried last year simply shrivelled. I’ve put wallsowater(no water in ’em) for a bit of protection, held in place by wire tomato hoops, the big ‘uns. So far so good.

    Those decaying leaves will bring the worms, even to a gravel and rock pit as mine used to be. And this year my fruit trees are leafing out like nobody’s business after pretending to be bonsai lo these many years.

    Last fall I put leafage in trenches plus sprouted potatoes (organic only) along a west facing wall, dirt on top. We get mountain snows, freezes, more zone 6 than 5 – a lot are doing great with all the rain we’ve had.

    Water? I ran long soaker hoses through the garden attached to a rainbarrel parked under the canalé, (Don’t get me started on flat roofs.) When it doesn’t rain I do use the hose to fill the barrel – the hoses run just below the surface of the dirt or mulch, my version of drip irrigation. In a smallish garden, this works, though I still overhead water a bit, usually at the end of the day (which I can get away with due to low mountain humidity.)

    Oh, I forgot the canary fertilizer. I have quite a few and I see Mama has a couple of mouths she’s feeding. All their leavings go in the compost, which probably helps.

  24. different clue

    Lambert Strether, thank you for creating this entry for people to add water-advice to. Hopefully more people will offer more thoughts and sources before the comments close. I have never lived in a dry place so all I know is what I read. Given that, here are a few things that come to mind.

    A desert-based botanist/ ethnic botanist/ agronomist/ etc. named Gary Paul Nabhan has done work on plants and traditional ag-systems in the arid Southwest. He co-founded a seed company called Native Seeds/Search devoted to finding and reviving isolated samples of Soutwest Indian Nations drought-tolerant food crops and selling seed samples to people. The company and catalog still exist. He has also written several books ( The Desert Smells Like Rain and so forth). His most recent book is called Growing Food In A Hotter Drier Land and is about how semi-desert peoples have used limited water to grow some foodplants on a reliable long term basis.

    (Since two or more links per comment seem to choke the comment system, I will leave a few more comments with 1-2 links per comment.)

  25. different clue

    Since ideally water moves around the earth in a cycle , the Water Cycle; then a way to have “more water” would be to retain on the land more of the water that falls on the land. This would begin to reverse the Western-Man driven de-watering of land masses and persistent one-way flow of landwater to the ocean. A major part of raising land-based water retention ability would be to restore the levels of soil humus and other soil carbon forms to the levels they were at before the modern Bonfire of the Humus got under way.
    Different people have been exploring different ways to do this. An Australian(again!) soil/plant scientist named Christine Jones has been studying re-carbonizing soils and also co-ordinating the gathering together of other peoples’ study of this same subject. Here is her website.

    I once at an Acres USA conference heard/saw a presentation by someone named Michael Melendrez of New Mexico and owner/researcher of a company called Soil Secrets. His deal and research were basically about how to restore and support missing mycorrhizae to Southwestern-area soils where they had used to exist before abusive agriculture, home-building, etc. destroyed them. These mycorrhizae would absorb sugary root-sweat from the plant-roots they lived on and in return bring minerals in the surrounding soil into themselves and then back into their host roots. They also secrete a multi-carbon chain molecule which has been called “glomalin”. This molecule is highly water-holding and over time degrades into persistent long-chain humus which is also water-holding. This allows the soil it is in to better hold the meager water it recieves, allowing more growth of the plants rooted therein, who then feed more sugary root-sweat to their root-borne mycorrhizae who secrete more glomalin into the soil, which holds in place even more of the meager water, enabling even more plant growth . . . round and round up to a level higher than usually found in the average degraded present day. Here is the website.

  26. different clue

    As long as agro-politics and irrigation politics and consumer preferrences remain what they are, irrigated agriculture will remain in place and desperately pursued in California and elsewhere in the Big Heat Little Water West and Southwest. Given that reality, more efficient ways to deploy and use what water there is
    will buy some time for irrigated desert agriculture to continue while James Howard Klunster’s “other arrangements” are being designed and deployed.
    So if California farmers are going to keep watering the desert to keep the plants growing, perhaps technical methods of water deployment efficiency might be studied and deployed. I have read that Israel claims its agronomists invented “drip irrigation” as we know it today, and they have certainly rolled it out on a broad scale. By now “drip irrigation” is already fairly well known here, as this google search site shows . . .

    Here is a founded-in-Israel company which develops and sells drip-irrigation systems in many places.
    Perhaps this could only be widerly applied in California if a land-reform is first forced upon Californian agriculture whereby the irrigated farmland there is subdivided into many more much smaller landowner-worked units, allowing for the much higher rural population needed ( I suspect) to make these granularly detailed systems work. Perhaps that is a bullet which will just have to be bitten if water conservation efficiency is to be forced upon an unwilling Californian farm sector. Perhaps a way to apply that force and make it look like “market forces” is to charge residential homeowner rates for irrigation water. Perhaps the age of near-free taxpayer funded “welfare water” for agriculture is coming to a swift end in the Desert Sunbelt. Anyway, here is the link.

    And for those who find the idea of patronizing an Israeli-invented company distasteful, there is always the American (I believe) company Gardena. ( No link give for fear of choking the comment function. Surely Gardena can be googled.)

  27. different clue

    Years ago I once read a book by Israeli agronomist Michael Evenari about researching and experimenting on and maybe reviving the desert-based water-harvesting methods of the ancient Nabateans. There even seems to be an updated version of that book which I hadn’t heard of before recent googling.

    For those who find the thought of studying an Israeli author on the subject to be distasteful, perhaps Jordanian agronomists have done there own parallel researches into ancient Nabatean agriculture, because part of ancient Nabatea lies within present day Jordan. Indeed, the ancient regional capital of Nabatea, called Petra; is itself within present day Jordan.

  28. different clue

    Personal residential water-use is a tiny fraction of agricultural water use, but since Big Agribussiness has Power and Urbia/Suburbia has No Power; Urbia/Suburbia will be forced to take the water-hit for now. ( It has already been pointed out that Gov Brown has immunized and impunitized the existentially hyperdestructive water-destroying practice known as “fracking”. Urbia/Suburbia must conserve water to keep water available for fracking. So sayeth the new Governator, Governator Brown. So let it be written, so let it be done).

    Well, anyway, since toilets use a lot of water and lo-flow toilets use “less” water, a “no flow” toilet would use the least water of all. There are complex expensive waterless compost toilets which can be found on google. A simpler cheaper approach is findable here:
    Making your own digestive and kidney waste into “compoo” would be to turn your terminally used food into high carbon humusogenic soil ammendment. If society is not ready for that, feed it to earthworms to turn it into an even smaller volume of compoo-wormpost. If society isn’t even ready for THAT . . . well, boil the compoo-wormpost once a year in a big old fashioned wash tub like this beauty from Cumberland General Store . . .
    Boil your compoo-wormpost in that and it will be totally sterilized. Who could object? Mix the sterilized compoo-wormpost into your garden soil and you help make it even more water retentive than before.
    If society isn’t even ready for THAAAATTTT . . . . fuck them. Let them die of desiccation in their desert of Jared Diamond-style obstinacy.

  29. different clue

    Finally, I noticed way upthread how someone named Mell Pell got an awful lot of bites with one small bucket of chum. If this thread is still open for comments tomorrow, I might take Mell Pell’s comment as a teaching opportunity moment. But now, I have to go home.

  30. different clue

    Another water-thought . . .

    I remember reading/hearing somewhere that snow has a slightly different distribution/percentage of stable hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in it than rain that forms AS rain. And that melted snow water has a slightly more growth-stimulating effect on plants than rain water does. In other words, snow water might have slightly more bang-per-gallon than rain water would, due to the different percentages of stable isotopes of the dihydrogen monoxide molecules condensing into rain as against into snow. If that is true, then finding a way to save large amounts of snow from off of your roof and yard and holding it in tanks till garden season for feeding it to the plants might well capture the slightly greater plants-eye-view value of snow water as against the rain water which falls on them later.

    I don’t have the patience to read about differential hydrogen and oxygen isotope distribution in the water molecules which freeze out as snow as against condense out as rain. If people do want to do that reading, here is a google search page pointing to papers on the distributional differences at least.

    Now . . . IF someone decides to gather in the harvest of winter snow in order to save it, how could one move larger amounts of snow at a time than with a conventional shovel? Or with a snow-blower if one wishes to avoid the oil-use? Perhaps a yooper-scooper would help. Here is an example of a certain brand of yooper-scooper called the ergo-sleigh and a little video on how to use it. I have found I can swiftly move my snow into big piles on selected target areas.

    And this certainly seems like an interesting snow-mover. I just now saw it myself while finding the ergo-sleigh yoo toob video.

  31. different clue

    Some years ago I found a website called Honey Bee Network. They were based in India. Their deal was . . . third world people invent all kinds of things and first world people see them and take away the knowledge and monetize it. H B Network wanted a system for third world people to be made web-aware of eachothers’ innovations and also to keep first world people from monetizing them for nothing in return. So they made a system for inventors to post thumbnail sketches of what they had done for others to read. Any FIRST worlders who expressed interest would have to negotiate payment in advance and also ongoing payments to be allowed to access the full description. Just now on looking at the site again I see it looks all different and I so far can’t find the thumbnail sketches. They may be in there and I can’t figure out how to find them. Digitally skilled people may figure out how to use this site or at least study it. Some of the solutions findable may impact water issues. Here is the site.

  32. different clue

    If water gets short enough to where rationing is imposed for mere citizens, we will have to learn personal household tricks for stretching a set amount of water over the most possible uses. A lot of that has been covered in various comments above. I thought I would offer a little thing that I do.

    When washing dishes, I fill one dish with strongly detergenty water. I wash that dish and pour the water into the next dish. I do from dish to dish until the last dish is washed. Then I wash the flat plates and things with the dirty but still detergenty water from that last dish. Then I wash all the silverware from that same last dish of water. Then I rinse them in as little water as feasible.

    If/when we get put on water rationing, we should know how to “save” water. We should also know that if we are discovered to have used less water than what we were rationed, that our water ration will be cut to reflect our lower level of use. So people who have learned how to use less water than their assigned ration should also have something else in reserve to use the water on . . . so as to use their full ration of water and not have their water ration cut. Having a garden is a fine way to use up any otherwise-unused part of one’s assigned water ration. It sounds silly now, but it won’t sound silly to those readers who find themselves on water rationing if their area gets dry enough long enough.

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