Gardening With Less Water

Bill Roley | Friday, 22nd July 2016
An easy to read and use guide on gardening with less water. Essential for hot climates and areas of frequent drought.
Author: David A. Bainbridge
Publisher: Storey
Publication year: 2015
RRP: £10.00

Climate change and increased variability of severe droughts worsens our problems of landscape, orchard and crop production. Droughts are becoming more common and severe. We are running short of water in many parts of the world and the cost of water and food are going up, as is our consumption of water in most urban areas.

Gardening with Less Water is on the cutting edge of a two thousand year old technology that uses 90% less water in your garden. David has researched and monitored low cost, super-efficient irrigation methods and these are simply and well presented in the book and the supporting website. David’s insights give hope to drought resiliency for all of us.

Bainbridge’s super-efficient watering systems go directly to the roots of plants and minimize above ground evaporation and runoff. This also dramatically reduces weed growth. The auto-regulative properties and minimal waste reduce watering and spread out watering intervals. 

David describes many traditional irrigation systems including both wick and buried clay pot irrigation that he first studied at the Dry Land Research Institute at the University of California, Riverside in the 1980s. His buried clay pot irrigation instructions first came from the ancient Chinese agronomist, Fan Sheng-chih from about 10BC. Fan increased crop yields of resource-limited farmers with too little land and too little water. This proved well suited for desert restoration work and encouraged Bainbridge to research this and other little known methods of dry land irrigation. 

After 30 years of promoting these super-efficient ceramic systems, David’s research has cut water use by 50-90%, virtually eliminating weeding, improving plant health and crop yield. Learning from the past is critical to improving performance, reducing water use and evolving climate sensitive land management strategies. 

David goes through these tradi-tional practices and augments and improves these water delivery systems with modern materials and research in Part 1 of his book: Super-Efficient Irrigation Systems. This is where he describes buried clay pots, pipes, tree shelters, and other porous capsules in simple, available and illustrative diagrams.

 Part 2 takes water conservation to the next level, using water-harvesting catchments and developing perma-culture plans for your garden, patio, house and farm. These practices can provide sustainable living almost anywhere in the world whether the climate is exceptionally dry or more temperate. It is all about reading the landscape, identifying existing plants, soils and environmental conditions to establish a microclimate permaculture design of balancing these multi-dimensional factors into an integrated synthesis plan.

Bainbridge’s goal has been to develop low cost, super-efficient systems that can work with low quality water, and can be made by unskilled or non-technical workers using local resources. The materials needed are commonly available at hardware stores and garden centers. These super-efficient systems are amazingly simple and effective.

David believes water-wise gardeners can reduce water demand, improve plant growth, crop yield and beauty of flowers, trees and shrubs, while improving the soil food web. 

Water use and weeding can easily be cut 50%, but it is possible to go much further. Adding experience and understanding of these water-wise technologies year by year can further improve your water use efficiency. 

Many agriculture extension groups, garden associations, water agencies and sustainable farming organizations offer online material, financial incentives and workshops on deep mulching, landform engineering with swales, contours and rain garden designs. These methods are a comple-ment to the super-efficient irrigation systems that are described by David’s detailed water conservation techniques in his book.

Home gardeners are looking for inexpensive, simple ways to irrigate efficiently. The systems in this book can be 10 times more water efficient than other watering methods and they can be installed in all landscapes. Giving priority to native plants from your region, choosing varieties that are dryland adapted, planting in blocks instead of rows, and using deep mulch to keep soil cool and healthy can further reduce water use. Using these techniques, strategies and technologies can improve people’s quality of life at home, on the farm and in the neighborhood, community, city, state and nation.

Bainbridge recommends adding water harvesting landscapes and super-efficient irrigation to schools and university gardens and land-scaping where water-wise gardening is a priority for extension and outreach. We will need to play a part in reducing water use and making our food system more regenerative by restoring our degraded landscapes with vegetation cover.

Full color photographs and illustrations present an array of options with step by step instructions showing how to assemble these low-tech systems and use them in the home landscape to deliver water directly to plant roots. A supporting website adds more photos, updated supplier lists and detailed instructions for additional systems. 

Bill Roley PhD, Permaculture Institute of Southern California

Further resources

Managing drought in a Mediterranean climate

Building a rain garden

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