Designing for Climate Change III

In the previous two posts I wrote about the work we’ve put into restoring our riparian corridor and into stabilising our slopes. This final post is about work we’ve carried out on the plateau at the height of land to drought-proof and flood-proof our property simultaneously.

It’ll be impossible to explain everything we’re doing and why in a series of blog posts, but hopefully readers will get an idea of the intention behind our work: primarily slowing the flow of water during peak periods, storing water safely for later use; redirecting water away from vulnerable areas; planting trees that will hold the soil; planting drought-tolerant stock fodder; decompressing soils to improve their function; designing in seasonal change to our systems.

One way we slow flowing water high on our property is with a series of swales and a small pond. Most of the swales are in and around our market gardens.

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The image below is when we just started putting in beds from the top after building the swale at the bottom.

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This photo was taken a long time ago but shows the water very clearly in the mid-slope swale.

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This larger swale is at the bottom of the market gardens and is large enough to store significant amounts of water. In winter we have the option of using a submersible pump to direct water in a variety of directions depending on the forthcoming weather and other factors we may consider.

Again, this is a very old photo taken while we were digging the series of three basins connected by ditches on contour behind the earthen berm.

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Like all of the swales, we also dug the pond by hand with our interns.

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It currently holds 25,000 litres but each summer we dig it a little deeper. We’ve planted willow rods around it for goat fodder as needed.

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The clay soil that we dug out was shifted by wheelbarrow to stabilise a bank under some pines that were cut years ago. This is directly above a track which is vital to farm management. We buried the drain pipe and backfilled up to the base of the pine stumps.

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A lot of this work was prompted by the 2015 Whanganui flooding (shown above), which left us with slips including one above this track and directly underneath our home.

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We always try to direct water away from buildings. I wrote about this French drain recently.

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This former stable is at the height of land. When we arrived there was no guttering or spouting on the building and all the water was directed against the east side.

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I put up the gutters about three years ago and now we have three options for directing the water: in winter we can run it straight into the huge storm drain along the road…

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…in spring we can direct it into 15,000 litres worth of tanks inside the stable; and in summer we can pipe it out into the “mud pit” along the ridge but a good distance from the stables. This trickle feeds the paddock and orchard from the top in both directions.

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As an old horse property, the soils were compressed and sour when we arrived. We’ve spent a lot of time improving soil function, including liming and putting in the no till garden beds one by one.

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We’ve nearly reached the 2,000 milestone for native trees, shrubs and grasses, so I’ve turned my attention to planting more tagasaste about the place for superior drought tolerant stock fodder and shelter.

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All of these strategies work in conjunction in four dimensions. In total, it’s a great example of designing from patterns to detail, and is the primary lesson of our PDC Internship programme. Our interns may not go on to manage farms, but everyone of them will go on to live in a world of increasing extreme weather events.

Peace, Estwing

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