Water: The fuel of life.
Its' been raining for the pass six hours. Some parts of the garden are now completely saturated. Rain, in many cultures, is considered a blessing. Here in the U.K, I feel we take it for granted. It rains most of the year here in south west Devon, very rarely a couple of weeks go by without some form of a shower. Yet the days when it fails to show invites a sense of worry for the keen gardener.
I lived in The Gambia for just under a decade. It was a dry sandy landscape, where most of the rain fell between June and October. Irrigation was a huge part of the agricultural industry, yet very little was being done to promote water conservation or retention within the soil. During my time there I very seldom came across rainwater harvesting, deep mulching or swales. The main way of dealing with the dry season was to hook up hoses to the mains water pump and occasionally flood the fields, or if it was further in-land, up country, then it was a matter of fetching buckets and buckets of water from the village well back to the farm or garden. And for those with more resources a sprinkler system would be used. I myself used a simple hose attached to the mains water supply. It never even occurred to me that it might be a good idea to collect and store rainwater for later use in the dryer periods. And mulching was something I learnt must later on in my journey towards self reliance.
There doesn't seem to be a great storage of water here in Devon, however I am told that the world in running out of fresh, clean drinking water. This is a statement I've struggled with for some time. We are running out of water? How is that possible? The stuff literally falls from the sky. It just didn't make any sense. So I decided to do some research. What I came to find out was that only approximately 0.33% of all the water on the planet is readily available for us to drink, the human species use and abuse this resource as if it were of little to no importance.
As it stands, we use water at a rate much faster than our mother Earth can replenish the stocks, and to make matters worse we destroy the mechanisms which aids her in this task. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on average the equivalent of 48 football fields of forest, not plantations, is cut down every minute. Plus we cover up large areas of soil, obstruct and, in some cases, even stop the flow of rivers. I remember in my primary school days I was thought about that hydrological cycle. That rain falls to the Earth, the water soaks into the ground, flows across the land, ends up in the oceans, evaporation takes place, the clouds form and then makes it rain. And so it goes, a never ending cycle of purification and revitalisation. This is a very simplified form of what actually takes place in nature. But the point is that the natural cycles which exist makes sure that there is always an adequate supply of this most vital resource, available for life on Earth to continue and thrive. Unless it is significantly obstructed. The age of industry and consumerism has enabled us to significantly alter the cycles of nature through pollution and over-consumption.
This is the harsh reality we are now faced with. So what should we do? What could we do? Do the best you can. I love gardening and through this medium I have decided to share my knowledge and experiences. In my garden, water is of the up most importance. I collect and store rain-water for later use, not only in the garden but also in the household. We wash our dishes, clothes and bodies with it. In my garden I implement systems to help reduce the need for extra input of water, for example; I practice no-dig gardening, a system where by organic matter or 'mulch' is added to the growing beds periodically. This helps to hold moisture in the soil, protect the top soil from the elements, and feeds the micro-organisms that live there. On the steeper areas of the land, I use contour lines to help slow the movement of water across the land, thereby increasing the amount that soaks into the ground. I am also developing the idea of creating a rain garden (watch this space).
Access to clean, safe drinking water is a huge privilege. Some may argue that the water currently flowing through our taps may be clean but is not safe. I feel that I am one of the lucky ones. My familys' drinking water comes from deep beneath the Earth, slowly filtered down through over 30m of soil and rock. Very few have access to this pure form of water for consumption, yet it doesn't take much to make rainwater safe for drinking. The water used for washing up, showers and baths, and doing the laundry can also be reused. This form of waste water is called 'grey-water'. Grey-water treatment is simple and can be done on both large and small scales. Treated grey-water can be used in the garden, or, with multiple levels of treatment and purification, can even be used for consumption. Slow sand filters and flow forms are two low tech means of cleaning contaminated water.
I find it quiet embarrassing that we the human species still purposefully defecate into our clean water supply. I would understand it if we didn't know of any alternatives to dealing with our bodily waste. In nature everything has a use or in other words everything is used by something else to maintain or improve the overall system. Nothing is wasted. In Permaculture waste or pollution is simply defined as unused or underutilised resources. The aim in Permaculture is to develop cycles, systems which practically govern themselves. We contaminate our water supply then expense vast amounts of energy, infrastructure and other resources towards cleaning it so we can safely consume it. It all seems very wrong when I stop to think about it. So what are the alternatives? In my last post I wrote about composting. Composting toilets are AMAZING. They turn, what can be described as, toxic waste into life giving soil. Here at Landmatters we are experimenting with recycling and reusing our bodily waste. We use wheelie bin systems and 'open' drop box systems. Both have their merits as well as their short comings. And they both work. When constructed and managed well a composting toilet is in valuable to the self-reliant homestead. Other systems that can be used to recycle human bodily waste are Wetland Eco-system Treatment (WET) systems. Theses systems use the natural properties of water and plants to purify contaminated water.
At Landmatters we pay huge respect to the natural elements around us. Soil, water, wood, and air are what keeps us alive and comfortable. I believe that by nurturing a closer connection to these elements I and my family will find true happiness and lead a life love and divine understanding. It is said that the human body is made of 70% water, so it makes sense, to me, to try and understand how it works and how to best look after it. In so doing we might have a slight chance of unlocking the mysteries of who we are and why we're here.