Rainwater harvesting. One of those ingeniously simple ideas, probably soon- to-be new green-living fad, that should just be common sense. I mean, how many zillions of times have I watched water run through the streets, or collect in ditches, or create little rivers in the sand? Yet it never occurred to me to catch it and put it to use. I think it was because I grew up in a place wealthy with water; we took it for granted. It took desert-country living to get the idea through my ignorance shield that it is true wealth falling from the sky, not pretty little shiny things to watch disappear. And even then, this discovery was an accident.
Somehow with my innate mixture of environmentalist and cheapskate (my desire to lighten our load on the earth and stop spending so much money on diesel to pump water), I began researching permaculture. This is a practice of designing land systems that are sustainable and self-sufficient. Yet even though the creator of this concept hails from fairly dry Australia, the bulk of permaculture information is for temperate climates. And understandably so; it’s much easier to do there. The one book I eventually found for dry climates was about rainwater harvesting and how the author, who lived in Tuscon, Arizona, one of the driest and hottest places on earth, turned his desert home into a green garden using not much more than rainwater. Although Arizona gets rain throughout the year and not in one seasonal clump like Namibia, they often get less than our farm, so I figured this could work for us, too. And naturally I recruited Jay, a native Namibian, a man famous for putting buckets under leaky gutters, a born rainwater harvester. Also a guy with a bulldozer.
Our farm is big though, and long neglected in this department, so it’s going to take a while. The good news is, we are at the foot of a huge hill so although we are now well-eroded, we also have a lot of runoff to work with. We’ve started then, with the water which is always running straight through our yard and out the front gate. It wasn’t complicated work, only about two days work in all, and Jay does not consider it “work” when he gets to use the bulldozer.
Here’s a before shot featuring the dozer and the huge hill in the background:
The water would always come down the dirt paths, one of which is visible in the picture, and continue left, flowing right out the front gate. Our plan was then to rather have it head straight down past the gate and into these citrus fruit trees:So employing one of my newly learned rain-harvesting strategies (berms) and a channel Jay plowed in front of the gate, we turned this:
For lack of a more sophisticated expression: it’s awesome. In the meantime, another gutter has gone up on an old shed with a big roof. An abandoned diesel tank is waiting dutifully underneath ready to catch, and later pass into our veggie garden, what falls. I am now eager to launch more transformations and curious if we’ll see even a glimpse of the current farm ten years down the road.
So thanks, big momma nature, for giving us rain. And thanks for the plants that grow food. And also for the intelligent people, to help the rest of us figure out what to do with the first two.