Try & Try Again

Try & Try Again

Much to Molly’s chagrin, I operate life through a sequence of experiments. Call it the Scientific Method if you will. I have an idea, then I test it to see if it works. Sometimes this results in huge gains, and other times in colossal failures. But experiments offer valuable lessons that I use to refine my understanding. Like any good scientist, I study what other people do and I adapt their strategies for my own unique needs and circumstances.

While studying permaculture, I was exposed to three concepts that seemed to have perfect harmony with one another: 1) using greywater (household water from sinks and showers) to irrigate plants and trees and 2) building swales (a ditch and berm on contour) to capture runoff, and 3) planting trees on those swales to maximize water uptake. When we built our home in 2016, it seemed natural to combine all three – piping our greywater system to a swale and planting peach trees along the crest. I still believe this is a great idea, but for our circumstances, it required too much maintenance and didn’t integrate well with our animals.

The abundance of greywater not only watered the trees but also spurred an unwelcome proliferation of weeds and grass.  I built the swales too high to get the mower between the trees, so in order to control the weeds, I would bring in the cows and sheep to graze it down.  Unfortunately, cattle and sheep have a particular fondness for fruit trees, and they would strip the bark off our peach trees.  

This left me in a perpetual struggle: either wrestling with the weeds or protecting the trees from the sheep. In an effort to suppress the weeds, I resorted to heavily mulching the swale but that resulted in choking up the drainage of the gray water system, requiring even more maintenance.

So this weekend I decided to throw in the towel and begin anew.  I relocated some of the replacement trees I had planted last spring to our front yard, knocked down the swale, and temporarily replumbed the greywater back to our septic tank.

Having learned some of the challenges with my first roll-out has me thinking about a better implementation of the original concept.  I still think it is a good idea to combine the three principals, but I either need to make it possible to mow the berm or plant trees the sheep won’t destroy (or both).  But in the meantime, I’m busy with several other experiments that are in multiple stages of development here on the ranch.  Perhaps one of you has ideas on this topic or can take the concept to the next level – after all, that is why I’m so adamant about sharing both our failures and our successes.  Life is a grand experiment and by sharing, we’re able to build a better tomorrow.

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