"…By what stretch of arrogance do you think a life form that looks like you is more important than a life form that doesn’t?”Joel Salatin

Nothing is more beneficial to your wellbeing than to look for and acknowledge those parts of everyday life that you enjoy.

"If you are happy where you are now, why does it matter how painful it was to get there?" -- Abraham

"It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life." -- Bilbo Baggins a.k.a. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play in your hair." -- Kahill Gibran

“And forget not

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's a Swale of a Deal!!

My front yard

Looking at this, it's difficult to believe that this place won the Registry Award for our area from the Wichita Falls Clean Community in 2006.

In the foreground of the picture on the left, you can see the telltale warning signs of the present disaster; the yellowing of the St. Augustine on the island.

The dirt feels like talcum powder on top, but to be fair, once I dug down past the dust, it seems like pretty good soil.  No, I have not had it tested.  I picked up the paraphernalia to do that but never did and now I've lost it.

 One of my neighbors doesn't speak to me anymore and since I have little contact with her anyway, I can only assume she hates my guts because my yard looks like this and hers is perfect. Hers is Bermuda (much better choice for grass around here).  It's in full sun, not one tree in her yard.  Her lot is  also flat so when she waters, it stays in place.  It doesn't even have any winter leaves on it -- because she vacuums them off.

Oh, well, that's the least of my worries.  In trying to figure out what to do about this dust bowl, I decided one positive thing would be to start growing composting worms, so I got my bins ready after watching several videos on Youtube. (By the way, growing composting worms for their castings is called "vermicomposting".) I ordered 500 Red Wrigglers which are supposed to be the best for composting, from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  They are different from the earthworms we see when we dig in healthy ground. They are supposed to do their thing quicker. And Seth loves them!  They are the "new family pet."  Every time I open the bin to check on them, he comes running. "I want to see the worms!  I want to hold one! Awww! They're so cute!"

I guess googling "worm bins" is what brought the Permaculture course to me.  One of the first things I read on the Permaculture site was about "swales".  Swales are shallow troughs that catch and hold water so it can absorb into the ground. There is an amazing video about how with swales, some Permaculturists in Israel, totally rejuvenated 10 acres of salty desert land in four years. You can watch that miracle here 

One of the problems with my yard is the incline. I'm not sure we had this issue when we bought this house.  But over the years, Ronnie has hauled in so much stuff to improve the lawn so he could have that damned thirsty temperamental  St. Augustine grass, I'm pretty sure he built this mound I'm dealing with now.  Every time he put down St. Augustine squares, they died and he put down more in the same place, and it got taller and taller.

Now it's impossible to water without the water running into the street.  When it rains , the water rushes down hill.  In torrential rains, it takes plugs of grass with it.  By the time I came to my senses after he died, I had a large area of erosion on the south end.  The drought went from bad to worse . The St. Augustine, which had not been happy for many years anyway died the same year Ronnie did. It left loose runners which stuck up all over the place like a bad hair day, so I pulled them up.  That was a mistake because it left the soil exposed to the summer sun, the heat and the wind.
Because I didn't want my neighbor who barely speaks to me anyway to be offended by the unsightliness of hay, I never even covered it up.

In the absence of the St. Augustine, thin patches of Bermuda have appeared and are surviving -- not thriving. Every time it rains they get a little bigger, then diminish again when it's dry again and hot. Like two steps forward and one step back.

Anyway, I started thinking about digging a swale to trap some of the next rain fall.  Of course all the doubt came on really strong. "You can't do that.  It's too much work.  You're not strong enough,, bla bla bla."

But the more I read and watched videos about the benefits of swales, the more convinced I became that one might help solve some of my dilemma.

At some point, I happened on the Tenth Acre Farm website.  They are in Cincinnati, Ohio, and get 40 inches of annual rainfall, but they made an amazing difference in their place using swales.

So, I dug the swale in a half moon in front of the pecan tree. When the weather warms up again next week, I'll extend it south and swirl it up on the end to catch and slow down the runoff from between the houses.  With the dirt I took out, I made a "berm" which is a mound along the down side of the swale. The berm serves as a dam of sorts.  I filled the swale with harvested water and it took at least an hour for it to absorb into the ground! That must be part of the problem. I transplanted Vinca Major, spearmint, ajuga, Mexican Petunias, creeping sedum and "Scrambled Eggs" (thanks David and Virginia Stepp) on the berm with Vinca Major around it.

Then I made "homemade mulch" out of crispy dried leaves, ground wood chips from the pigeon pen, and cypress mulch.  I mixed it together in the wheel barrow, then wet it down with harvested water and put it around all the new plants and completely covered the berm.  I brought in rocks from the back yard to help hold the new berm.

I sent Amy from Tenth Acre Farm the picture of the front yard.  I think she was  shocked, and she probably felt sorry for me having to live here because she was far more helpful than I expected. She explained to me that logs hold moisture and that they are a good thing to put in the swale, so I did that.  She also explained that rocks "absorb moisture, emanating it into the atmosphere slowly over time." The rocks will also "attract soil microbes that will make the soil inhabitable for plants again."  So I filled it with "egg rocks".  I wore out before I got the rocks covered with leaves but I'll do that asap. I really don't want it to stick out like a sore thumb. Amy recommended a series of swales around the yard so I'm gonna be so busy on these beautiful winter into spring days!!

After many years of pre-emergent in January, June and September -- like clock work, the dandelions are coming up! They are very beneficial, surprise, surprise! Did you know that in addition to being a medicinal herb, the dandelion is a nitrogen fixing plant? They store nitrogen in their roots and when they die, they release it. 
My hardly-speaking-to-me neighbor may have a series of anxiety attacks when she sees me pampering dandelions -- but oh well. 

I believe henbit and chickweed  are also nitrogen fixers. These are other plants we have traditionally considered weeds and sprayed chemical on to get rid of in our lawns.  But I think I'm finished with the traditional lawn.  If the Vinca Major grows as well in the front as it always has in the back, it'll take over half the yard.

I want to grow some food on "my little corner of the world", but I'll do that in back because there's more sun.  I have a couple of big containers that might work very well to grow onions or squash, and I have some ideas about making raised beds out of pallets.

When I was digging holes for the transplants I actually saw a few earth worms! That gave me a sense that this is all going to turn around soon. 

In one of the posts I read on the Tenth Acre Farm, she encouraged people to find something to do in the front yard. Meet your neighbors! That's something we're losing with our focus on terrorism, our fear of hooded men and cops. In other words we are losing our moments to enjoy what's outside, Nature's offerings, the plants! The trees! The birds! The squirrels! And my neighbors, as eccentric as they are, are friends!

While I was working out front on Tuesday, I visited with several neighbors a few doors down.  Wednesday, three neighbors and a friend stopped to say hello and check on the progress.

It started raining around 9 pm last night.  I went out to check on the swale this morning.  It's holding water and I see no signs of an over flow.