an irrigation tower for drylands gardening, part 2, and some drought thoughts

Here’s the latest.

Saturday, March 22, we met and continued work on our gravity-fed irrigation “tower.”


The frame for our prototype tower was built. We repurposed some wood that was here at the farm and we bought a few 2x4s also.

Here’s the frame.


And from another angle.


We decided to anchor the frame permanently with Quikrete. These holes are about 18″ or so deep.



Anchoring the water tower in this way should help the barrel and tower withstand the year-round high desert winds.


Next farm day, we’ll get the barrel in place and run drip hose. There will be a nozzle at the bottom of the tank, with a splitter attached, allowing the connection of multiple garden drip lines.


Have I mentioned how much I love it when people bring their kids to a farm day workshop?

And, finally, we will install filters made of cheese cloth or paint strainers at certain joints, keeping the whole system unclogged and free of debris. Debris in the lines is a perpetual concern in drip systems.


We’ve discussed the possibility of adding more barrels in sequence. We may or may not do that now, depending on what other workshops may come up. This has been a learning experience and this irrigation tower is a prototype for gravity fed construction.

If you live in a place where you can mount catchment barrels on the roof, that might be even more efficient. If you live in a place where more water falls from the sky, even more so.

More photos to follow.

And moving along…

Our recent rain showers have not brought an end to California’s worst drought since we’ve been recording rainfall patterns. That would make this the worst drought since the mid- to late 1800s. In fact, it’s more like a 500 year drought.

Many people have not heard of the Medieval droughts. People are barely accustomed to thinking about droughts that last decades. In the Middle Ages, California experienced two serious droughts, lasting 140 years and 220 years.

Warming and drying. Drought and mega-drought. Fires and landslides. And then mega-floods. They all go together. 500-year droughts; 500-year floods.

In fact, we are overdue for a 200-year flood here on the west coast, here in California. To say nothing of The Big One.

I’m not sure what these seemingly apocalyptic thoughts have to do with our water tower.

It comes from living in this howling high desert for decades and for working at growing food from this land for 25 years. What began as a way to increase my large family’s food supply, grew into an obsession, led to a PhD, and now has me here.


If we can eke a bit of food from such a marginal climate and we watch those around us do the same while we share our knowledge, maybe there are some answers in this high desert for a warming and increasingly climatically chaotic world.


To begin with the obvious, one obvious change that people can make toward water conservation is to use the water they have more effectively. Maybe stop planting lawns in a desert. For those not in a desert, the idea of “food not lawns” is worth exploring.

More. Maybe encouraging the growth of native food plants and learning to prepare them. More effective water use, better timing for the water we do employ, such as using less water when the plants we grow tolerate less water.


Restorative agriculture, not extractive. Farming in imitation of nature. Polycultures, not monocultures. More perennial food plants, less annual. In fact, my ideal would be perennial polycultures.

beginning manzanita grove and lavender

For the last three years I’ve been alternating between fight and flight. Stay in this desert or leave it. If I stay, I may stay the rest of my life.*

My loan modification has made the choice for me for the next almost-three years. So I fight on here for three years and see what happens. And then I make a choice.

* I may be leaning toward this line of thought because most of my thinking involves this land as home base and very frugal travel when the isolation, the ceaseless winds and climate extremes get the better of me. On the other hand, I know that things can change and change radically in any number of ways in three years. So onward.

About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in agroecology, climate change, community, dryland restoration, Nature, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to an irrigation tower for drylands gardening, part 2, and some drought thoughts

  1. rainshadowfarm says:

    Reblogged this on Rainshadow Farm Institute and commented:

    And a follow-up.

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