In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2003
Regional Report

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Rainwater fills the mulch pits, slowly soaking into the soil and creating a moisture reservoir.

Mulch Pits

It's sprinkling as I write this, and I'm looking forward to a good deluge, if the weather will cooperate. I want to test the mulch pits that I recently dug. Mulch pits -- frequently used in permaculture landscape design -- are simply holes dug into the ground and filled with mulch. Because the mulch is looser than hard-packed soil, the holes act as mini retention basins for rainwater.

Mulch pits can be any size and depth that works for your situation, depending on the type of plants and how much water you expect to handle. Any mulch material can be used, such as grass clippings, leaves, shredded chip matter, or straw.

Digging the Pits
I dug mini mulch trenches in a small area in front of my house that is conveniently located near quite a flow of rainwater when we are so blessed. Only about 100 square feet in size, it was overgrown with all types of cacti and other pointy succulents that had become impassable for all but very skinny cats, cactus wrens, or people with skin impervious to spines.

I dug all the plants out, divided the clumps of aloes, and took cuttings from various cacti. Then I raked the soil level and dug shallow trenches across the area. The rain that pours off my roof was designed to flow down the sidewalk, into the storm channels and drains, where it is basically wasted. My goal is to direct some of that flowing rainwater from the sidewalk into these trenches, where it can soak into the soil.

Since I knew rain was predicted about the same time as I finished this project, I didn't fill the trenches in with mulch so I could determine if the rain flowed into them as I expected. The rain is pouring down now and my little trenches are filling up. It appears that I may need to do a little leveling to keep the water flowing the entire length, but otherwise it's working so I can fill in the mulch. All of my new plantings are receiving a good soak, courtesy of Mother Nature!


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