Notes from Windward: #69


Hot, Dam!

Andrew describes an experiment in permaculture design

     I have been sharing with others here at windward, a few videos I acquired about successful models of temperate Permaculture. What is most compelling is Sep Holzer's farm the Krameterhof in the fir forest of Austria. He has a series of terraces, raised beds and over 90 ponds and lakes comprising his farm. His model is a wonderful example of what can be done with a marginal piece of land, with enough observation of natural systems and initial investment in forming the landscape. And, of course, love and care.

burning the downed wood to
clear way for the cider orchard

     This past week we've been burning up some wood that had been cut to allow one of our neighbors to attach to the main power line that runs along Windward's eastern side. This is along side of our new entrance in a place where Lindsay is looking at putting in a cider orchard. A spring run-off creek runs through this area, and to escape the heat of the fire, I cool myself in the creek water. At the end of first day of burning, Oana and I were keeping watch as the coals burned themselves out, I went over to the creek to wash my face. As I sat by the water, I began placing rocks in the stream, and observing the way the water follows the path of least resistance.

Lindsay and Jon add more downed wood to the fire

     After a short time of watching the water, I began to think about a way to make this stream last longer into the summer for the benefit of the orchard trees. I found myself building a small dam to block the flow of the water. I figure that slowing the flow of the creek water down stream would give the earth more time to soak it up, potentially raising the water table. This idea is taken directly from the recent investigation into Sepp Holzers Permaculture farm in Austria.

     Shortly after I began Oana joined me in the dam building effort. And eventually John joined Oana and I. soon we had a nice looking damn, that had raised the level of the water to nearly a foot. This dam was composed of a rock foundation, layers of mud between yet more rocks, and a top level of root-bound soil and straight tree limbs. The spillway was created to one side of the dam. The natural height of the earth on this side was lower, and thus the water naturally wanted to flow down at this spot as the reservoir slowly filled.

first dam, the prettiest of all the dams

     Jon and I continued building another damn of a similar type up the creek from the first. Within about an Hour we had build to damn, raising the water level and adding to the moisture in the surrounding Earth.

second dam took advantage of a natural blockage in the creek

     Two days later, a second fire was built to continue burning the punky, rotten wood around the orchard. When it was my time for fire watch, I began building a third damn. This one I did solo, and the work progressed quickly. Within an hour I had a strong dam and more than a foot of water in a large reservoir. This one was composed almost completely of root bound soil and grass, with a few rocks intersperse. The over flow in this design was in the center, and the water ran over a large rock about 5 inches below the height of the dam walls.

third dam with extended spillway

     John joined me for fire watch and we build yet another dam, this one using layers of mud and stone, with a long spill.

dam one, four and three in a row; creating three terraced ponds

     After observations of the degradation of each dam design, I hope to have a better understanding of how to trap water. With this understanding, a larger dam may be constructed in an area of creek just below the current dams that has a natural contour of land that is ideal for creating small reservoirs.

     The uses for such a reservoir are many. Besides raising the local water table, and providing an opportunity for water to be tapped in the area for a longer period into the dry season, we will be able to cultivate many plants. Duck weed could be grown on the surface of the pond, reducing the mosquito ability of mosquitoes to spawn, and providing self-reproducing supplemental feed for out ducks, chickens, fish and possibly the goats and sheep. If it turns out that the water last through the dry season, until the rains come again in the fall, then we may be able to put cold tolerant fish in the pond as well as plants.

Andrew, Camille and Oana oversee the winding down of the fire

     Lindsay expressed interest in planting water loving rhubarb along the banks, and in some man made islands in the water. As well as planting native species growing along the Klickitat and Columbia rivers. I am interested in seeing if Willow, and Indian Hemp (dogbane) will grow at Windward's altitude. These plants are found along the Columbia, and are the traditional materials for basketry and rope making; two crafts that are essential to the culture and heritage of the Klickitat and mid-Columbia natives.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69