Coping with low rainfall: Hugelkultur
Rain must fall for there to be life. Water is the basis for life for all living creatures. We need it biochemically for our internal processes to continue.
Water can supply the drinking needs for people and animals to stave off dehydration. Those wells cannot though provide enough water for agriculture. For that you need cisterns that save up rainfall and snowmelt and possibly divert from rivers to create reservoirs of water.
What then to do if there isn't sufficient rainfall in your region? What can a smart person do to cope? Probably the best response is to build hugelkultur raised beds.
Here's some information from permies.com. They've been experimenting with it as a means of reducing the need for irrigation. This is vital especially due to cyclical droughts, the huge need for water, and to lessen the need to pipe water from one portion of the country to another.
[link to www.richsoil.com
In hugelkultur, wood debris is buried. Some wood as it lies there collects rainfall and is covered by soil then rots, and this acts as a sponge not only of water, but bacteria. Then it oozes out the water slowly and keeps the soils moist instead of draining to the ground water below.
Now if you were to place certain woods in the ground and bury them, then they would also ooze phytochemicals, just as tea or coffee oozes chemicals when prepared. Walnut as we have previously discussed produces jugalone, and that will inhibit plants from growing well. Other wood also release chemicals or they may not rot well, or they may bind the nitrogen in the soil.
One of the mistakes a beginner does as a gardener is to chop up debris for use as mulch, and then apply it directly to the garden. Because of the leaching process of tannins, they just ruined their garden for four years since they bound up all of the nitrogen. They accelerated the natural process of decay, and then they pay the price of their error. It's fine to mulch, just let it sit a long time before using it. Truthfully without fuel, there are no wood chippers anyway, so mulching by this means in a collapse is impossible.
For some unknown reason, putting whole chopped branches and trunks into the base of the hugelkultur doesn't result in this process of decay. Read the article carefully and then do your own research.
After the wood is placed, earth is mounded up such that a hill seven feet high is created. Branches are placed and locked by branch-hooks to hold it into place, then seed is planted, along with transplanted plants and trees and shrubs. The result is a hill that is very resistant to drought, and if you can grow the plants quickly enough that wind doesn't wick away the moisture (so probably straw is placed to hold it together), then the wind will not cause erosion. If you think about it, the mound creates a natural windbreak. It's a fantastic idea! The base of a carely constructed mound creates a potential swale (see previous postings) and that will also channel water but mostly allow water to stop and soak into the soil. This is probably the most incredible idea I have ever encountered in many decades of life.
Only time and a lot of research and critical thinking will determine its usefulness.
In many cases, the sod that is usually thrown away or composted, is actually placed within the hugulkultur mound and also decays and structurally holds the hill together.
Why is any of this important? We need ways of gardening that use less water. This method might be a great way for people in arid region in the West or the Great Plains adapt to the current Drought. It allows a greater self-reliance upon local water supplies and results in less need for water to be brought in.
If I lived in those areas mentioned above, I would particularly consider using this method. It is ingenious. It results in not only healthier plants, but supports a very mixed culture of plant species as in Nature. It actually creates zones of climates based upon the sun position, and this will impart a change in the taste of the vegetables grow in it.
Please study this revolutionary technique. It is even more important than Biodynamic raised beds, and may directly assist the no-till method proposed by Fukuoka. I am very enthusiastic today after watching and reading about this method as I believe that practically all areas of the country (save desert regions) could use it.
Why not desserts? When agriculture is attempted in those regions, ultimately they create salt deposits. They can surely feed people, but the high salt content eventually poisons the carefully created humus that was amassed. Sometimes there is little one can ultimately do to terraform.
What is the downside? It requires enough wood to create the hugelkultur. It is work to grow a forest and then to chop it down and then to place it. This also means that the wood is not available to use as fuel, provide crops from fruits, maple syrup, tools, lumber, oxygen, etc.
It makes you realize the need to replant forests all the more, but if you have the wood, say downed by a ice storm or tornado, then here's a good use for it versus simply firewood or having someone haul it away and expense.