January 17, 2014, California Governor Brown declared California is in a Drought State of Emergency. Many of us ask ‘What took so long?’ We have been having record breaking January high temps, no rain in sight. What will summer be like?! Our other concern is fires.
Nashville born Chinese American John D Liu has been greening deserts for 2 decades. As an environmental film maker, he has documented the successful restoration of large-scale ecosystems in some of the most difficult areas, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Jordan. He was first inspired by the seemingly miraculous recovery of China’s Loess Plateau, from desert to lush farmland! He has lived in China 30 years, so has seen it firsthand. Amazing results happen in 3 to 5 years, not only affecting the local areas, but all the areas below. As the soil becomes able to retain water, water flow is increased, giving water to farmlands and for hydroelectric power. Heads of state invite him to help their countries.
If we can green deserts, we can save our land and water locally! What they do, we can do in our landscapes and gardens on a smaller scale. Water capturing terraces are established on hillsides. Holes are dug and lined with rocks to keep the water there until plants recover and do that job. Plants are planted. Destructive grazing or land use is stopped. We can make major and mini bioswales and terraces, build a series of rock lined mini dams in steep gullies to slow water and let it sink in, restore the water table. We can cover our land as is natural, with plant debris sprinkled with manures. We can easily let crops grow to fruition, let those plants feed the birds with their seeds in winter, some seeds will fall into the soil. We can save some seeds from our best plants, and let the plant fall to the ground. Rather than let plants fall over and lay there in unbreathing straw-like mats, we can speed the soil building process, cut and break them up with our shovels, aerating the soil, increasing water holding capacity. We, can add manures, grow green manure crops, let land rest at times. Cover exposed soil with organic soil feeding, building, mulches. If you own herds, cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, move them around. Have a plan. Install a grey water system – it is now legal in California.
Consider Dry Farming. Sometimes it’s doable, sometimes not. Here are practical tips for the adventure from different people who have done it! In general, select seeds and plants that are heat and drought tolerant that require less water. Also, in your veggie gardens, alternate plantings of soil nourishing legumes, then other plants. Keep your soil healthy and lively, having excellent water holding capacity, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.
What we do in our landscapes and veggie gardens is a mini model of the world you want to see happen. If you are inclined, you can teach it to others verbally, by writing about it, or through images as well. Connect with local groups who specialize in water conservation land stewardship and have experience. In Santa Barbara CA that might be Sweetwater Collaborative that offers hands-on workshops.
Liu’s work is more than just talk. The success of this restoration is well documented. It is not just a tale of hope; it’s evidence of hope. Get out your shovel; it’s a New Year!
Watch the Green Gold video! 47:31 Minutes