Thursday, May 10, 2012

Three Things About This Picture

Cultural change, stacked functions and repeat functions

The picture above documents three important aspects of the transition to a permaculture based life: cultural change, stacked functions and repeating functions. Here in the desert, water is beyond precious. Our community gets its water from an ancient underground aquifer - an aquifer that stopped recharging thousands of years ago. Let's add to this fragile situation, waste disposal based on the septic system. Surely and steadily, the nitrates from our urine are making their way downward to the aquifer. The status quo solution to this is the very expensive installation of a centralized waste treatment plant. But what if we stepped back for a minute and thought outside the margins of our cultural training? One of the many principles of permaculture is "least change for maximum results". So...if urine in our septic systems is the problem, then it seems a no brainer to consider simply taking urine out of the loop by peeing in a bucket. This takes a cultural change.

Now we come to the second aspect of the picture above - stacked functions. Another permaculture principle - have every action serve as many purposes as possible. We start peeing in buckets - absolutely no more urine going into our toilets. We start growing desert-happy fruit trees, like pomegranates.  Fruit trees need good organic compost and here in the desert they need wind protection. Upended straw bales will protect from wind and cold. You can help clean up the desert by using old tires to add to that protection and bolster up the bales. The main ingredients needed to make compost are nitrogen and carbon. Human urine is sterile and nitrogen rich. Straw bales are carbon rich. If you cut a cuplike depression in the top of each bale and pour in your urine diluted 1 to 10 with water, you will initiate the composting process. If the bales are placed inside the watering well of the trees, you will have created the perfect compost fertilizer at the bottom of the bale. If you water intelligently, the tree will take up all the nutrients leaving no organic compounds migrating down to the aquifer.

You can also pour the urine directly onto your compost pile or dilute it 1 part urine to 10 parts water and pour it at the base of your fruit trees as fertilizer. If you fertilize your trees this way, let the urine sit for about 3 days first as it's a "hot" nitrogen like chicken manure.

A cut in the water well berm captures rain fun off from the up hill slope.

The third aspect of this picture demonstrates a "repeat function". In permaculture, you always try to meet every need in multiple ways. My pomegranate tree needs water. I irrigate with city water but I've also opened one end of the water well around the tree in alignment with a small water run off course that comes down the slope of the property. In a strong rain, I'm able to capture quite a bit of run off into the water well. I keep a thick layer of mulch (straw and palm leaves) around the tree to keep down evaporation. The next step will be rain catchment off the roof of my studio for back up watering during the summer. I already use bathtub water to irrigate other plants on the property.

Permaculture offers an elegant wake up call from our ecological bad dream. As we make the transition to a more grounded and resilient life, a life in tune with the patterns of nature, the beauty of this system will become more and more apparent.

For more detailed information on the uses of Liquid Gold (aka your pee) go here.