Episode-629- Paul Wheaton on the Elimination of Irrigation

Paul Wheaton - Founder of Permies.com

Paul Wheaton from Permies.com

Yes you read the title correctly, elimination, not alternative, not creative, elimination.    Can irrigation truly be eliminated?  In my view absolutely, at least in many instances and one of our all time most popular guests Paul Wheaton returns to TSP to discuss exactly how to do it.

Join us today as we discuss swales, key line systems, terraces, hugelkultur, and over a dozen other ways plants get water in natural systems.

Irrigation is one of the most costly components of modern agriculture, it is also depleting one of most precious life giving resources, water.  Yet think about it, there are millions of acres of prairie, forest, jungle and savana that produce massive yields of plant matter every year and who irrigates them?  Imagine the impact if these systems could be scaled up to eliminate even 15% of current agricultural irrigation requirements.

The good news is many of them can be done in your own back yard, some are simple and others are complex but just by making a pile of rocks, burying some rotting wood or moving around a bit of soil you can vastly reduce your personal irrigation requirements.

Join Paul and I Today as we discuss…

  • How did ancient earth ever have plants without humans to water them
  • Tomatoes are actually a desert plant so why do they require so much water
  • Why does Paul call watering plants, “the imaginary birth of irrigation”
  • How many ways do plants have to get water in natural settings, many!
    • Polyculture interactions
    • Trees creating transpiration, condensation drip, etc
    • Natural mulching
    • Humidity rise
    • Key line systems
    • Terracing
    • Swales
    • Wind reductions
    • Tap root systems
    • No transplanting
    • Paddock shift livestock grazing
    • Dew ponds
    • Stacked rock systems
    • Edge utilization
    • Shade
  • The simple things you can do to get started on illumination of your need for watering
  • The advantages of letting some crops struggle
  • The work that proves these systems by visionaries like Lawton, Mollison, Holzer and Smits

Additional Resources for Today’s Show

Remember to comment, chime in and tell us your thoughts, this podcast is one man’s opinion, not a lecture or sermon. Also please enter our listener appreciation contest and help spread the word about our show. Also remember you can call in your questions and comments to 866-65-THINK and you might hear yourself on the air.

42 Responses to Episode-629- Paul Wheaton on the Elimination of Irrigation

  1. Pingback: permaculture podcast: replacing irrigation with permaculture | Permaculture Blog

  2. I loved today’s show! How high should I make my hugelkultur bed? I have lots of downed limbs,trees, and shurbs that I want to use. I am poor so I will be doing most by hand including the dirt moving. I am thinking of digging a swale for that. My land is on a hill. can I plant immediately after I put the dirt on the logs?

    • @ outdoorfury

      Have a listen to these two podcasts to help answer your hugelkultur questions:

      “Episode-598- Paul Wheaton from Permies.com on Permaculture, Hugelkultur, Survival Housing and More”

      “Episode-612- Paul Wheaton on Hugelkultur and wofati Eco Buildings”

  3. Our berries never get watered (they’re all located in spots that stay damp, even in summer), and they’re all the better for it, I think. Interesting proposal for the rest of the garden, though. Important topic, Jack – learning lots. Thanks.

  4. Sweet Dune Reference!

  5. Awesome show!!!! I’m so stoked to get my hands muddy!

  6. Clarification: The Man Who Planted Trees is 100% fiction. Not based on any true story.

  7. As usual, great to hear Paul again. Jack’s best interviews are definitely with this d00d. To the listening, it sounds like you’re listening in on two guys at a bar just shooting the breeze rather than an interview for a podcast.

    It also helps that both Jack and Paul have strong opinions, mixed with real experience, assisted by a dash of the “hey, lets try this” attitude. It is that kind of free-form commando approach that keeps me coming back. Kudos to both of you guys.

  8. Super-fu**cking-great podcast! First one I sat down and took notes for!

    This is wonderful stuff.

  9. Oh sorry. That’s not how to spell that word.

  10. Jack you’ve done it again LOL. I just called you a couple days about rain barrels and using the water for my Vegetables coming off asphalt shingles and now this. SIGH

    • Modern Survival

      @Dan Don’t sweat it man and your question is in the lineup for Friday. I think most of us are a long way from total elimination but if we can get some crops growing with out it that is a great step.

    • O dude, that is funny! I feel the same way. I’m keeping it though, at least I can drink the water if I need to. LOL.

  11. Pingback: Conservation Farming, Living Mulches and Raising Chickens! Missoula, MT

  12. i love when paul is on, he is great and always gets the old brain cells movin. thanks to jack and paul and keep up the good work.

  13. Great show, but we feel we have to correct Paul’s description of Keyline as there were some key errors in his description that really sell short what Keyline is capable of. Firstly Keyline is a design system that both improves the water cycle of a landscape and very rapidly builds topsoil. Ideally Keyline require only 3 years of plowing and then you stop. By this stage you will have built around 1 foot of topsoil and created a more even spread of water across your landscape.

    ***Keyline does not require plowing every year indefinately***

    This is very important to point out because if it did it would mean that the mycelium fungal threads in the soil would be cut every year which is not acceptable. Keyline plowing is a way of fast-tracking the recovery of your entire landscape. Another important point is that it can be applied to flat lands just as well as hilly country. A lot of Permies do not properly understand Keyline which in turn has resulted in it not being used as much as it could be.

    Darren Doherty is probably the best authority on Keyline and Permaculture in the world. Here are some videos of his that help to describe Keyline.

    Darren Doherty explaining keyline on the beach
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsWKyv9Hbak
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK7WpUi-kGo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ3hVgAsMwk&playnext=1&list=PL66C1D27668E75F30

    A Prototype of the Keyline super plow for rapid land healing
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJx3VKH0nZs

    Also just to be nit picky Allan Savory did not invent Rotational Grazing, a Frenchman named Andre Voisin did. Savory used Rotational Grazing as part of his fantastic Holistic Management system. Holistic Management and Keyline are 2 things that we feel are Permaculture enthusiasts should integrate into their design skills. Holistic Management and Permaculture compliment each other very well.

    Keep up the good work Jack and Paul

    • Modern Survival

      @Evan Young and Anji Bergkvist Great stuff on Keyline systems I have to learn more about them.

      Now on who invented rotational grazing I don’t think anyone should bother arguing this as I am sure we are actually talking about who made it popular in modern times not who invented it. This is like arguing whether Leaf Erikson or Chris Columbus discovered the “new world”. I am positive rotational grazing predates Moses, LOL.

      • Yes Rotational Grazing is copying the grazing patterns of a wild herd and is essentially what shepards have always done. That was a very minor point of my comment. I was mostly trying to emphasise that people don’t discount Keyline because of the way that Paul described it as I felt it was inaccurate.

  14. I’m not sure whether to say, “Dang, where was Paul two years ago when I started seriously gardening?” or, “Thank God I found out about permaculture/hugelkultur before we bought our homestead!”

    Anyway, as always, appreciate the podcast, esp. love absorbing all that Paul has to say. I am officially a “permie” and am slowly making my way through all his eye-opening videos (4yo DS enjoys them, too. :))

  15. Great Podcast! I can’t wait to apply some of the principles Paul discusses in my garden in the desert SW.

  16. Jack,

    I am trying to find a reference for the swales that were created in the desert here in the States that filled up with vegetation on their own. I cant find any mention of it anywhere ( strangely the encyclopedia has piss poor priorities in the articles it contains). I discussed the information in my history class this morning and now I have some interested young minds inquiring about it. Any help you could provide would be very much appreciated!

    (my wife hates you by the way, I dropped my American history minor in order to pick up a biology minor – botany and fish for the self sustained win!)

  17. All this time I thought I was being a lousy gardener… turns out I was being an excellent permaculturalist!

  18. Question about hugelkultur beds: I keep hearing Paul and others talk about making them 6th tall and taller. But where do you actually plant? On top, or on the sides? Am I missing something?

  19. Great interview! Is it just me or does Paul sound like Harry Anderson from that old TV show “Night Court” :-)

  20. Lucas, I was in Germany 15 years ago and they rent and own little plots of land to have mini gardens .Its hard to explain,but I went with my friend to one of a friend of hers.She had two of the beds one 10 years old and one only 3 years old.What she did to build them was 1st she dug a hole about 3 feet deep,put in wood,limbs,prunings from shrubs,old wood chips and even left over wood boards from building fences to just above ground level.She then put the dirt back in (she did some of this as she filled in the wood to be sure it was packed pretty good)She built it up with added dirt compost etc to about 3 feet above ground level.It was about 3 to 4 feet wide.She did 2 things different then I hear discribed by Paul.
    1.She had ditches about 6inches wide and deep along the long edges of the mounds at ground level,to be sure water went into the wood area, a good idea in low rain areas I think.
    2. She planted innoculated peas and beans in the new bed.This was to increase the nitragen then she planted what ever she wanted after the peas were done or along side of them.
    She added to the top soil as needed to keep it 3 feet or so above ground level.She never had to water ! Which is good as the little plot of land was an hour from her house and she only got out there on week ends.She planted on the sides as well as the top of the mound.Hope this helps.

  21. Paul, love your stuff! Great info man but, we only have an hour brother so focus focus focus! lol!

    Where do I find your Podcast?

  22. Yeah, this podcast needs to be labeled explicit in the Itunes store. I believe there was one or two fbombs and a few other words that people should at least have warning it’s coming. Thanks

  23. Paul has done it again. I’m 100% on board with hugelkultur beds.

    Paul is a fantastic guest as always. I’ve learned so much in these 3 episodes and I think he is an awesome guy and hilarious speaker… now with the praise out of the way I need to offer a small criticism.

    I would love to hear more about paddock shift system, especially with regards to predators

    I tuned into his podcast and it was not covered.

    Now for the criticism:
    For some reason Paul is *absolutely convinced* that ANYONE who uses a chicken tractor lets their chickens sit in one spot until it is completely cleared out of all vegetation. I’m sure someone out there does it but I don’t think it is the norm as he keeps suggesting repeatedly. Even when you questioned him about it on podcast #1 he couldn’t seem to wrap his mind around that concept of moving before this occured.

    I listened to his podcast about chickens also and he said much the same thing again.

    Paul guess what? You could just as easily leave them in a paddock until they cleared that out… again owner intervention before this occurs is necessary in both cases, though I admit that the tractor requires this more frequently.

    I know a bunch of people using tractors and not one person that does it is guilty of this practice. OK there is an argument against tractor’s in terms of the chickens not having tons of room. It is a concession made due to superior predator protection in a lot of cases….

    Now I really want to use some form of paddock shift in my backyard orchard, but need to lock down the predator concerns first, until then my new chicks are going into a tractor.

    disclaimer: take my comments with a grain of salt as I am not a current chicken owner… just an aspiring one

  24. Awesome show! I can hardly wait until I am out of my slum apartment and I get myself some dirt to try this out on!

  25. Great show.

    Part of the discussion was around not planting a traditional orchard, but companion planting to increase overall yield. Last fall, I purchased some apple trees, peach trees, paw paw, persimmon, and cherry trees. I have them in the ground now, but in more of a traditional orchard mentality.

    What resources would you suggest for me to check out to plant in a “permaculture” design. Much easier to move now than 6 months or more from now.

    Thanks!

  26. You mentioned that Paul now has a podcast. I searched itunes but can find it. Where can I find it?

  27. James Nelson

    I raised sheep for about 15 years and was introduced to a paddock method of grazing that was used in Australia and New Zealand. Permanent electric fence lines were built about 150 feet apart and movable electric fencing was then used to make paddocks between the lines. The theory was to only make the paddocks large enough to feed the sheep for about 3 days and then they were moved.
    I did this for a number of years and was very pleased with the results. You do get much more yield in pasturage by this method and internal parasites are easier to control. All of the green is removed, but not overgrazed. If left on the same piece of ground for an extended period, sheep will kill the best pasture plants by continually returning to them as they come up, leaving nothing but the weeds. The same thing will happen if the sheep are moved before they eat all the green, the weeds won’t be touched and will dominate the other pasture plants.
    Too large of paddocks in a paddock system will not give the most efficient use of the pasturage.

    • Modern Survival

      @James that makes perfect sense and it also direcly conflicts with Paul’s 30% rule, however his numbers are for chickens and a chicken is not a sheep. Yet I have to say I have had the same thought, if the animal (chicken, cow, duck, etc.) eats all of its “ice cream” will not the plants you don’t want eventually dominate the entire system?

  28. Backwoods Engineer

    Thanks for having Paul Wheaton on again, Jack. I hope like you that he will be a regular guest. His thinking is so clear, and he is able to articulate so many details about permaculture in such an understandable way. Love it. Great podcast.

  29. Pingback: Doing Swale

  30. I am not gay but I love you, Paul! You’re cool guy – keep up the great work!

  31. @Modern Survival,

    Thank you for the video link. Just what I needed!

  32. Just listened to this episode. Awesome! I wish I had more time to delve into permaculture but will definitely take this show’s information into consideration when spending what time I can on gardening this year.