Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mulch Basin

Jeez, it's been almost a month since I posted anything. It's not that nothing is going on, I just didn't blog. Now all two of my readers will have forgotten by now. I started this post a while back, before the rain, which is pooling on the clay in the back:

 but draining where the mulch basin is:

We have a break from rain so we are taking the opportunity to dig great big holes in the clay soil of the backyard.  Last winter, just after we bought this place, I noticed that the drainage out back was pretty slow.  After heavy rain, water would sit there on the surface for a while before it would percolate into the ground.  I had been reading books like Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster and Create an Oasis with Greywater by Art Ludwig and they both stress the importance of mulch basins.

When I first started thinking about rainwater collection, I imagined having a storage tank holding the water from my roof.  While I do plan on doing that (I have already started collecting containers) there is no way I can store the 6000 plus gallons that might run off my roof this year.  In fact, I figure if I put a roof over a little more of the chicken coop I could get about 600 gallons from that alone.  What these books promote, especially Brad Lancaster's, is harvesting rainwater in the landscape.

A mulch basin is a big hole dug out of the earth that is filled with something like wood chips. If you have a greywater system, you can safely discharge your bath or laundry or sink water into a mulch basin.  I heard that the California Plumbing Code was changed, due to emergency water conditions, to allow domestic greywater.  In fact, it looks like the city of Petaluma is even promoting it. At any rate, even if you just want to harvest rainwater, a mulch basin seems to be a terrific idea.

We needed to get a couple of stumps removed so I called various tree people.  It would be cool and manly to have a chainsaw, but we live in the suburbs and don't need to cut that much wood.  For pruning, we have pruning saws and even a reciprocating saw with a pruning blade. A tree service guy came by and gave me an estimate. I also asked about wood chips and he said, no problem.  He showed up 2 days later and dumped a few yards of wood chips by the driveway for free. Well that was great, but we never could get him to show up and remove the stumps. I guess it is back to the phone book.

Our yard is fairly flat.  There is a very gentle slope, in that is seems like they made the street lower than the houses when they developed this walnut orchard.  Due to the poor drainage they put all the houses on little hills, but this must have been a river bed in ancient times. As you may have seen in a recent episode of Chicken Theater, the poor chickens get clay all over their feet when it rains. We have been digging out the basins and creating berms on the sloped areas, to slow the water and encourage percolating rather than runoff.  So many people try to get the water to run into the street, but we have been planting a mini orchard and want the water to stay (just away from the house, please).  I am hoping that filling the basins with wood chips will help the water to drain deep into the ground.  I am also hoping that covering the ground in the chicken area with wood chips will help condition the clay soil and mitigate the clay shoes effect while providing a habitat for worms and other creatures the chickens like to eat.  It may take many truckloads of chips.  I will keep you posted on whether it makes a difference.

Another side effect of this project is a total body workout.  Digging heavy wet clay trenches and basins really works out your abs, upper body and even your legs.  I think this will be my workout regimen from now on.  Digging holes and moving dirt.

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