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Water Systems with Ben Falk!
Waterplant Waltz Episode 3218th August 2022 • Song and Plants • Carmen Porter
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What are beneficial ways of keeping water onsite to build a lush habitat for humans and wildlife? How can you locate the best spot to construct a pond in your landscape? What indicators can give hints about existing subterranean water systems? When is the best time to shape your land for water retention?

From cold plunges, land regeneration, habitat diversification, climate resilience, soundscape enhancement to intense beauty and entertainment, water nurtures living systems. In this episode Ben Falk of Whole Systems Design shares profound insights into the workings and wonders of water systems!

Opening tune: Waterplant Waltz by Carmen Porter (https://carmenporter.com)


To contact Ben Falk, see more of his glorious work, register for courses or order his brilliant book (The Resilient Farm and Homestead):

https://www.wholesystemsdesign.com/

Transcripts

Carmen Porter:

Welcome to song and plants.

Carmen Porter:

My name is Carmen Porter.

Carmen Porter:

In this episode, I was joined by Ben Falk of whole systems design.

Carmen Porter:

His knowledge of the land, growing systems and permaculture design are steeped

Carmen Porter:

in experience, making his teachings personal and profoundly insightful.

Carmen Porter:

Water nurtures lush vegetation, and through various means, Ben

Carmen Porter:

has mastered capturing water to feed and nurture landscapes.

Carmen Porter:

I was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with him about his methods.

Carmen Porter:

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Carmen Porter:

Welcome to song and plants.

Carmen Porter:

Would you mind introducing yourself?

Ben Falk:

Sure.

Ben Falk:

My name's Ben Falk and, I'm a site planner, landscape architect, property,

Ben Falk:

homestead designer and manager.

Ben Falk:

I live with the systems that I help others design and set up and consult on myself.

Ben Falk:

Try to grow a bunch of my own food, live a healthy life, try to produce

Ben Falk:

an abundance, for more than just my family , to share locally, especially.

Ben Falk:

We teach others how to, how to do this through permaculture

Ben Falk:

courses and some other courses.

Ben Falk:

And I have a book that shares a lot of, well, some of what we've learned.

Ben Falk:

Been doing this pretty intensively on my own sites for 20 years and been kind of

Ben Falk:

into permaculture and ecological design for, I guess, close to about 30 now.

Ben Falk:

Yeah, I'm in central Vermont and I look forward to chatting with you

Ben Falk:

about water systems, especially today, but really about anything

Ben Falk:

you'd like, you know, our focus is improving the health of the place we

Ben Falk:

live while gleaning enough yields to supply us with our basic needs, like

Ben Falk:

food and fuel and medicine and health wellness, and many of the other

Ben Falk:

things that, that we need day to day.

Carmen Porter:

Absolutely.

Carmen Porter:

Well, thank you very much for joining me.

Carmen Porter:

The way you work water on your land is just absolutely astonishing.

Carmen Porter:

What are some of your preferred methods of keeping water from

Carmen Porter:

leaving or running off of your site?

Ben Falk:

Well, I think those would fall into the categories of swales, like

Ben Falk:

on contour ditches, ponds, terraces.

Ben Falk:

Building soil is, you know, always applicable, you know, building as

Ben Falk:

much organic matter as possible.

Ben Falk:

Rice patties were one of those systems we experimented a lot with, on one site, but

Ben Falk:

we don't really implement them anymore.

Ben Falk:

And just permanent cover green cover plants, especially

Ben Falk:

deep rooting perennial plants.

Ben Falk:

I think you could say that's a way of keeping water on site as well.

Ben Falk:

Yeah, those are, those are the main ones I think.

Carmen Porter:

What do you plant into your swales?

Ben Falk:

well, we plant generally on the mounds.

Ben Falk:

That's part of the swale, you know, it's kind of a ditch and then a mound and

Ben Falk:

on the mounds or right halfway down the mounds, depending on the size of them,

Ben Falk:

we plant pretty much anything you could think of that's like woody perennials.

Ben Falk:

We don't do annuals on them in general, but any woody of the

Ben Falk:

dozens and scores of trees and shrubs that we grow, we plant there.

Carmen Porter:

Hmm.

Carmen Porter:

And when you're looking at a site, what sort of considerations are you assessing

Carmen Porter:

when looking for pond sighting or where you would use the different

Carmen Porter:

types of water retention systems?

Ben Falk:

What aspects of the site am I looking for?

Carmen Porter:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

Well really I'm taking into account anything and everything but of

Ben Falk:

particular import is the slope, how steep it is, the soil type, the shape, whether

Ben Falk:

it's in a valley or a ridge or in between.

Ben Falk:

Those are the primary things, aspect comes into play to some extent.

Ben Falk:

Goals of course, of the client or whoever is, you know, desiring to implement

Ben Falk:

such a system, is a big one as well.

Ben Falk:

But, the climate of course, those are the big ones.

Carmen Porter:

What would you say would be a good place to put a pond, like where,

Carmen Porter:

what in the landscape would you look for?

Ben Falk:

Mm-hmm well, generally the most typical place you're looking

Ben Falk:

to put a pond is in an area where there's overland flow or below a spring.

Ben Falk:

Which is less common.

Ben Falk:

But typically the way we implement ponds is to catch, store and slow

Ben Falk:

waters flow downhill, in valleys.

Ben Falk:

And when I say valley, I mean, you know, very small valleys compared to what most

Ben Falk:

people think of as valleys, any little, you know, low point in a landscape where

Ben Falk:

water may intermittently even flow.

Ben Falk:

So even like micro valleys.

Ben Falk:

An acre to 20 acres would be like a typical watershed to feed a small

Ben Falk:

pond where I live and work and well all over the country, we've done

Ben Falk:

this kind of work so, you know, even that applies to really anywhere.

Ben Falk:

I mean the dryer, the climate, maybe the larger the watershed you

Ben Falk:

would need to feed a viable pond.

Ben Falk:

and sometimes more, I mean, sometimes, you know, you have hundreds of

Ben Falk:

acres going into a pond, but often just 5, 10, 20, 30 acres.

Ben Falk:

I have a lot of ponds personally that are, only, an acre to 10 acres of

Ben Falk:

watershed that feeds into the pond, you know, and again, intermittently not,

Ben Falk:

not year round, really on any of them.

Ben Falk:

In the driest part of the year there's no input to a lot of these ponds or pretty

Ben Falk:

much all of the ones that I manage.

Carmen Porter:

So, how do you get that pond to be funneling or collecting

Carmen Porter:

that water from such large area?

Ben Falk:

Well, it's you locate it in a valley where that water runs into.

Ben Falk:

So you can also put ditches across the slope, pitch downhill towards the pond.

Ben Falk:

So they're going uphill slightly across the slope, like arms outreaching

Ben Falk:

into the landscape to catch more water and bring that water into the pond.

Ben Falk:

Kind of the opposite that you would often see above a house, that's

Ben Falk:

on a slope where water's a problem to get water around a house, like

Ben Falk:

a curtain drain, curtain ditch.

Ben Falk:

You do the opposite, like a, a catching ditch to bring water toward the pond . So

Ben Falk:

you're catching a wider water shed.

Ben Falk:

That can be a common way to add, you know, make sure you're

Ben Falk:

harvesting more water for your pond.

Ben Falk:

We also pretty much always put roof water into our ponds when we can,

Ben Falk:

by adding gutters to buildings or capturing, if there's already gutters,

Ben Falk:

you know, where that water's going, and sending that water to the pond.

Carmen Porter:

Hmm.

Carmen Porter:

I guess you're using the soil to filter the water so you

Carmen Porter:

don't get a lot of silt or...?

Ben Falk:

Well, there's a lot of ways to catch this.

Ben Falk:

Usually you're looking to put a forebay in or a system of swales above

Ben Falk:

the pond to catch any silt that may be moving through the landscape, so

Ben Falk:

you don't fill the pond with silt.

Ben Falk:

So yeah, you want to catch all that because even naturally materials

Ben Falk:

moving through the landscape in water and you want to fill up

Ben Falk:

like small swales or ditches first

Ben Falk:

and not your pond.

Ben Falk:

Or a forebay, which is like a mini pond, or both.

Ben Falk:

You want a series of basically very little catchments above your main pond.

Ben Falk:

So you're reducing the amount that your core pond is gonna

Ben Falk:

fill in over time with sediment.

Carmen Porter:

Okay.

Ben Falk:

and you also, of course, you know, want to basically manage

Ben Falk:

for no erosion in that watershed.

Ben Falk:

So permanent cover, not a lot of vehicle impact or equipment impact, grazing

Ben Falk:

carefull if you do graze in those areas, you know, all the things that would keep

Ben Falk:

erosion to a minimum, permanent green cover, not tilling, ideally, careful

Ben Falk:

use of any roadways that might be in, in those areas, et cetera, etc...

Carmen Porter:

And how does soil type play into all of that?

Ben Falk:

Well, in a lot of different ways, the pond itself

Ben Falk:

needs heavy soil to hold water.

Ben Falk:

So you need either very heavy silt or ideally clay.

Ben Falk:

And it needs to be built carefully such that you're able to make

Ben Falk:

an impermeable strata that the water doesn't move through.

Ben Falk:

If you're on, you know, sandy soil or light silts or gravels, you generally

Ben Falk:

have to use a liner of some sort, whether it's polyethylene or EPDM or

Ben Falk:

bentonite clay like rollout liner, or bring import clay from ideally somewhere

Ben Falk:

else on the site, or not so ideally offsite, to actually line the pond.

Ben Falk:

We've pretty much done all of the above, everything except a bentonite

Ben Falk:

liner . We've even built ponds on sand and even some gravelly material

Ben Falk:

with clay from offsite and that worked.

Ben Falk:

So you can make a pond happen in a lot of places if you're willing

Ben Falk:

to do a lot of extra work or spend a lot of extra money or both.

Ben Falk:

But the most, you know, elegant places where ponds fit the most naturally

Ben Falk:

and harmoniously with less of that expense and energy are where you have,

Ben Falk:

let's say a nice valley with a bunch of water going through it, at least

Ben Falk:

intermittently and some nice clay soils.

Ben Falk:

That's the most feasible place to put a pond.

Ben Falk:

But depends on the scale too.

Ben Falk:

I mean, you know, you could put a small pond for not a whole lot of expense with

Ben Falk:

just rainwater off of a roof on rocky, gravelly soil, and you just use a liner

Ben Falk:

and don't make a very big pond and you have like, essentially like a natural

Ben Falk:

swimming pool and it can be really great.

Ben Falk:

So it depends also what we mean by a pond, you know?

Ben Falk:

where I live, typically people are talking about a pretty decent sized

Ben Falk:

water body bigger than like most pools, but it doesn't have to be that.

Carmen Porter:

And I suppose, knowing the site and doing soil tests on the site can

Carmen Porter:

also help for determining where to put it, in that very often there are, like

Carmen Porter:

you said, pockets of clay or pockets of different material on the same site.

Ben Falk:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

but typically you look at the land shape first and you look at the soil second.

Ben Falk:

You definitely always look at both.

Ben Falk:

You wanna always look at both.

Ben Falk:

When I do consults, helping people determine pond feasibility and optimal

Ben Falk:

locations, we're looking at the citing first and the soil second.

Ben Falk:

And when I say citing, I mean, where is a valley shape, ideally, or where can a lot

Ben Falk:

of water go to via roofs, parking areas, roadways, you know, things that catch

Ben Falk:

impermeable, conveyances in the landscape.

Ben Falk:

Those can allow for a feasible pond too, in a place that's not a valley.

Ben Falk:

If you can just get a lot of water to it or enough.

Ben Falk:

And for a lot of ponds, people really get the most value out of them if they're

Ben Falk:

in zone one, in permaculture speak, that is, in a place you spend a lot of time.

Ben Falk:

The area of the landscape that you use every day, near a home, near your main

Ben Falk:

garden, where you park a car, you know, et cetera, et cetera, like in your sphere

Ben Falk:

of high interactivity, not where you maybe only go a couple times a week.

Ben Falk:

Things like that.

Ben Falk:

Not that those can't be also very useful for different farm functions

Ben Falk:

and we have ponds like that too.

Ben Falk:

But, generally the highest value ponds are, are kind of in your most used areas.

Ben Falk:

And that's where you tend to have a lot of buildings so you tend to

Ben Falk:

have a lot of easy water harvesting.

Ben Falk:

Our roof surface is a hundred percent impermeable, well all but living roofs

Ben Falk:

and they can evaporate some, so you're going to be able to harvest, you know,

Ben Falk:

600 some odd gallons for every inch of rain that lands on a roof per

Ben Falk:

thousand square feet of surface.

Ben Falk:

That can add up pretty quick.

Carmen Porter:

And when you're collecting it and funneling it into the pond.

Carmen Porter:

Are you just using a gutter system or are you moving it through water systems

Carmen Porter:

before it gets to your main catchment?

Ben Falk:

Both.

Ben Falk:

I mean, we have a pond that I'm lying near right now where the water that

Ben Falk:

just, it just rained quarter inch an hour ago, was awesome, and I went and

Ben Falk:

checked out cuz it hasn't been raining much lately, I ran out, got nice and

Ben Falk:

soaked during the rain event to see the water coming out of a, about 150 feet of

Ben Falk:

four inch, 10 foot pipe, you know, the green drain pipe that catches water from

Ben Falk:

the down spout of a very long gutter.

Ben Falk:

And you know, maybe 10 gallons a minute was coming out of that tube

Ben Falk:

right into one of our ponds.

Ben Falk:

And then it actually goes into a little like erosion control, armored little

Ben Falk:

basin, like hand dug basin with a whole bunch of rocks around it to reduce

Ben Falk:

erosion, then trickles into one pond, via over more rocks again, should just reduce

Ben Falk:

erosion cuz there's like a couple vertical feet that has to fall into the pond.

Ben Falk:

And then it goes out that pond down a stone lined creek, which we built in a

Ben Falk:

permaculture course, and then through a series of like two forebays and then into

Ben Falk:

a much bigger pond, which you may have seen photos of that I posted recently.

Ben Falk:

It's the latest pond we built.

Ben Falk:

So where water wants to run, we're always trying to help let it walk and

Ben Falk:

get the most distance out of its path through the landscape and not shunt it.

Ben Falk:

So, whereas the modern world of industrial design and engineering is

Ben Falk:

always trying to basically pollute it, pipe it, pump it, forget it,

Ben Falk:

try to get it out of our way.

Ben Falk:

Just get it to the oceans, get it to a river, to the oceans, you

Ben Falk:

know, polluted, get it out of sight.

Ben Falk:

We're trying to do the opposite.

Ben Falk:

We're trying to slow it, spread it, sink it.

Ben Falk:

Convey it over very low angle grades to let it move through the

Ben Falk:

landscape like its course is within an intestinal type of system.

Ben Falk:

Like think of how water moves through animals.

Ben Falk:

We're trying to extend its stay and get the most value by interacting with it as

Ben Falk:

possible and not shunt it out immediate.

Ben Falk:

And that's what we're trying to do in the landscape as well.

Ben Falk:

If regeneration and, you know, just value, is our goal.

Carmen Porter:

Hmm.

Carmen Porter:

So would you say when starting, like when somebody is wanting to start a

Carmen Porter:

project is that one of the primary things that they should be considering

Carmen Porter:

before putting in the garden before putting in other points of interest that

Carmen Porter:

they should consider building the land

Carmen Porter:

for water?

Ben Falk:

Yes, mm-hmm definitely, that's a great question.

Ben Falk:

And, uh, yes.

Ben Falk:

Is, is the answer for sure.

Ben Falk:

It's often not done that way that's why I'm kind of chuckling, but yes.

Ben Falk:

there's this great rubric for landscape design called the scale of permanence

Ben Falk:

that helps elucidate the importance of looking at features and processes in the

Ben Falk:

landscape that are most permanent around which you wanna design everything else.

Ben Falk:

And it's a gradient.

Ben Falk:

So water is very high on the list because it's connected with landshape.

Ben Falk:

So you can put a pond like maybe here or there, maybe one, or let's say two

Ben Falk:

places in a landscape, but you could maybe put a house in more places.

Ben Falk:

Or a garden, even in more places or a fence in even more

Ben Falk:

places et cetera, et cetera.

Ben Falk:

So like there's more primary and less primary things to cite in order.

Ben Falk:

And definitely water, land shape is very high on the scale of permanence.

Ben Falk:

You want to have other things pivot around their ideal locations,

Ben Falk:

not the other way around.

Ben Falk:

So often of course, it's not done that way.

Ben Falk:

People put the house in, you know, kind of as the first step, in let's say a rural

Ben Falk:

property type of situation I'm thinking of, cause that's what most of my work is.

Ben Falk:

And then they'll say, oh yeah, like we want a pond near the house too, but

Ben Falk:

they put the house in a place where pond really, isn't feasible in that area.

Ben Falk:

So they're outta luck in that situation because they didn't honor the scale of

Ben Falk:

permanence, you know, in their thinking.

Ben Falk:

But yeah, for sure you think about land shape more primarily

Ben Falk:

than building locations...

Ben Falk:

usually let's say.

Ben Falk:

And land, shape and water are intimately connected.

Carmen Porter:

And you also do multi-tiered ponds.

Carmen Porter:

So you're moving water from one pond to the next pond down the landscape.

Carmen Porter:

Using gravity to feed the ponds...

Ben Falk:

yeah, we're letting gravity move the water from one to the next.

Ben Falk:

It's just, it's just, again, following that rubric of trying to get the

Ben Falk:

most value, interact with the water the most before it's offsite...

Ben Falk:

spread it, sync it, utilize it as much as possible.

Carmen Porter:

But I've also seen you move water uphill.

Carmen Porter:

How do you do that?

Ben Falk:

Well, that requires a pump of some kind.

Ben Falk:

So usually we like to use as passive systems as possible, so like

Ben Falk:

we're big fans of ram pumps lately.

Ben Falk:

But I've also used solar slow pumps as well.

Ben Falk:

But generally are trying not to move water uphill.

Ben Falk:

I mean, I do have a well pump, you know, an electric well pump that moves

Ben Falk:

water uphill out of the ground to my home and to the garden, but then

Ben Falk:

we have like a solar pump and ram pumps to kind of back those systems

Ben Falk:

up for when those systems will fail.

Carmen Porter:

Is your irrigation mostly for your, your crops?

Ben Falk:

For, yeah, for my garden, my veggie garden is pretty much

Ben Falk:

where most of the water gets used.

Ben Falk:

I would say like 90% of our water gets used.

Ben Falk:

Well, on the farm right now, probably veggies use the most, followed by

Ben Falk:

cows, five cows, probably the next biggest use, and then domestic water,

Ben Falk:

which is mostly washing, not drink.

Ben Falk:

You know, you don't drink very much water compared to how much you used

Ben Falk:

to shower and wash dishes, that kind of thing, would be the next,

Ben Falk:

you know, the next biggest use.

Carmen Porter:

And so when you're watering, when you're irrigating your

Carmen Porter:

vegetables, is that mostly gravity fed or are you using the ram pump for that?

Ben Falk:

Well, so the Ram pump is in combination with gravity feed.

Ben Falk:

So like right now, day to day, I water my garden off our well cuz

Ben Falk:

the well pump's working and it's easy, quick, it's all set up.

Ben Falk:

But if and when the well pump breaks and it has actually in the past already, or

Ben Falk:

the powers out or any number of things are not working so that I don't have the well

Ben Falk:

water, then I can gravity feed from tanks that are about 40 vertical feet above the

Ben Falk:

garden, which are filled by a ram pump.

Ben Falk:

So for water to get into those tanks, the ram pump has to work, but that

Ben Falk:

ram pump is run only on gravity and the power of water itself.

Ben Falk:

It's a water powered pump, which sounds kind of weird, but they're pretty

Ben Falk:

amazing and that fills those tanks.

Ben Falk:

And so then gravity does the work of bringing that water from those tanks.

Ben Falk:

It's 1300 gallons of storage, it's like five IBC totes, those

Ben Falk:

275 ish gallon plastic totes in the woods above the house.

Ben Falk:

And then they can go through a series of three quarter inch lines

Ben Falk:

to come out of my garden and drip irrigate the vegetables that way.

Ben Falk:

And also they could feed the house.

Ben Falk:

I mean, I wouldn't drink that water, ideally I would drink

Ben Falk:

from my spring if the well was down, uh, when the well was down.

Ben Falk:

but, you could boil it and drink it, no problem.

Ben Falk:

I mean, you probably could drink it direct and be fine too if your

Ben Falk:

microbiome was used to it, it's coming from a very clean pond.

Carmen Porter:

Did you know where your spring was located or did you find it?

Ben Falk:

On one of our sites, we knew where the spring was cuz it was

Ben Falk:

developed before we got the property.

Ben Falk:

And on the other site, we've found three so far or four, really about four.

Ben Falk:

We've developed three of them to some extent, some very much so.

Ben Falk:

And then there's a fourth spot that we haven't developed, but

Ben Falk:

we know there's a spring there.

Ben Falk:

We didn't know any of those were there when we got the property, but we

Ben Falk:

knew, I knew that the property would probably yield a spring or multiple

Ben Falk:

springs just given the shape and the size and the location of the property.

Ben Falk:

So I wasn't really surprised to find those springs, but it took me

Ben Falk:

some years to actually find them.

Ben Falk:

And and every, every, every couple years I basically found a new one.

Ben Falk:

I mean, if I look more, I'd probably find more, but we

Ben Falk:

kind of have enough right now.

Ben Falk:

There's more in probably in other parts of the property that are like

Ben Falk:

zone four, you know, it would be like a thousand feet of piping to get

Ben Falk:

that water and we don't need it.

Ben Falk:

So I found the ones that are like close to zone one.

Ben Falk:

What was I looking for?

Ben Falk:

Well, I was looking for water, but I was looking for signs

Ben Falk:

of water, like sign of water.

Ben Falk:

Like you're looking for an animal, like water leaves tracks in just

Ben Falk:

the way an animal leaves tracks but obviously through different means.

Ben Falk:

But you wanna look in the dry season.

Ben Falk:

So if you're looking in spring in new England, you're gonna

Ben Falk:

find springs everywhere, or you're gonna think they're springs, but

Ben Falk:

they're not, they're just seeps.

Ben Falk:

It's very seasonal, like intermittent seeps that are not real springs.

Ben Falk:

So you wanna look starting around now, August, September, sometimes

Ben Falk:

October when things really dry up.

Ben Falk:

I'm speaking to the Northeastern United States, Canada, Southeastern

Ben Falk:

Canada, type of climate right now, cold humid climates in the

Ben Falk:

Northern hemisphere, maybe in general.

Ben Falk:

But wherever you are, you want it when it's dry is when you wanna look for water,

Ben Falk:

and when it's wet is when you wanna look for dry ground, that's like when you

Ben Falk:

can tell where those places truly exist.

Carmen Porter:

Hmm.

Carmen Porter:

So when you're looking for the water, are you digging?

Ben Falk:

That is not the first step, but, yes, eventually you

Ben Falk:

will be digging usually.

Ben Falk:

Initially you're looking for shape, land shape, and plants to tell you.

Ben Falk:

Those are the two main clues, I think that you will be using to find water.

Ben Falk:

There's a third, which is dousing, which I don't practice per se.

Ben Falk:

I've taken workshops, couple different dowsing workshops and

Ben Falk:

worked with a couple dousers.

Ben Falk:

I feel like I probably could douse, but haven't felt the need to because

Ben Falk:

I've so far been able to find water pretty well, by those other two methods,

Ben Falk:

which is looking for the landshape.

Ben Falk:

So generally at the key line in the landscape or the key point

Ben Falk:

is where you tend to find water.

Ben Falk:

So from where a slope moves from steep, to some extent,

Ben Falk:

relatively steep to less steep.

Ben Falk:

It doesn't have to be very steep, but a certain angle to a lower angle.

Ben Falk:

So often in the hills of new England, that would be, let's say a 10, 20,

Ben Falk:

30% slope changing to a five, well, eight, five or less percent slope.

Ben Falk:

It's that inflection point from where a slope goes from steeper to

Ben Falk:

less steep, the concavity in the slope.

Ben Falk:

That's where water tends to express itself.

Ben Falk:

And the bigger the slope you have uphill, the more likely it is you're

Ben Falk:

gonna find water in that general type of spot in the landscape.

Ben Falk:

So if you wanna find water and you have like a 500 vertical foot hill,

Ben Falk:

let's say, and you look in that concavity anywhere along that, at some

Ben Falk:

point you're gonna find water in a climate that's generally a pretty

Ben Falk:

humid climate, well watered climate.

Ben Falk:

It's just a question of where.

Ben Falk:

That's a pretty reliable thing.

Ben Falk:

It may be in the dry season four or five feet down and in the wet season

Ben Falk:

expressing itself on the surface but there's water there usually.

Ben Falk:

And then if that slope continues, which hopefully it does to some extent, you

Ben Falk:

can dig down and get that water out via gravity, cuz there's still a slope

Ben Falk:

dropping that you can get water out.

Ben Falk:

You can't move water uphill without a pump.

Ben Falk:

So you have to then pipe that water out to daylight to access it, you know, like

Ben Falk:

a horizontal or just below horizontal pipe through the wall of the spring

Ben Falk:

tile, or a box that you're digging into the ground to access the groundwater.

Ben Falk:

So that's called developing a spring.

Ben Falk:

There's a bunch of ways to do it, but they're all basically doing the same

Ben Falk:

thing, accessing the groundwater and then allowing it to flow downhill slightly

Ben Falk:

out to daylight where it can be used.

Ben Falk:

Or stay below ground and then come into a house, basement or

Ben Falk:

wherever your point of use is.

Ben Falk:

Plants are the other clue and they do a really great job of telling you and

Ben Falk:

can tell more than you might think.

Ben Falk:

Rushes and sedges and willows and alders and other water loving plants...

Ben Falk:

not just water loving plants 'cause all plants love water, but plants that tend

Ben Falk:

to be like wetland associative plants.

Ben Falk:

If you see something like cattails, like a true like marsh plant,

Ben Falk:

then you have, like perennial, almost perennial water usually.

Ben Falk:

But often where there's not a ton of water, but there's some

Ben Falk:

water, you'll see sedges.

Ben Falk:

If there's a little more water, you'll see rushes.

Ben Falk:

If there's even more water, you'll see cattails.

Ben Falk:

I mean, if you see cattails, you probably don't need the cattails

Ben Falk:

to tell you there's water there, if you're looking carefully.

Ben Falk:

But, willows and alders can tell you in places that aren't really all

Ben Falk:

that wet, at least to an initial eye, depending on the time of year.

Ben Falk:

And it's interesting, before I found this spring, I had a dowser out

Ben Falk:

here, this older guy named Leonard Robinson, who's a real local legend.

Ben Falk:

And he found a few different veins of water and I didn't really do anything

Ben Falk:

with them cuz wherever he found them, he said like this is 10 feet down or deeper.

Ben Falk:

And I don't have the means to dig 10 feet down really, or it's not worth it for me

Ben Falk:

and wasn't and definitely still isn't.

Ben Falk:

So I never explored those spots.

Ben Falk:

One of the springs I found was about a hundred feet downhill of the spot he said

Ben Falk:

is 10 feet, the vein is 10 feet deep.

Ben Falk:

Well, we didn't walk down there, but turns out a hundred feet downhill,

Ben Falk:

that vein was expressing itself at the surface one dry season.

Ben Falk:

In September, when I was walking through that area barefoot, I stepped

Ben Falk:

into like ankle deep, very cold water, and it hadn't rained in like a month.

Ben Falk:

So I knew instantly that's didn't come from any rain.

Ben Falk:

That's that's groundwater, it's cold and there's water at the surface.

Ben Falk:

So that's the first spring I developed here.

Ben Falk:

incidentally, there was no indication that that had been ever developed.

Ben Falk:

There was no depression or mound or anything, it was just like

Ben Falk:

a smooth part of the landscape, just like everything around it.

Ben Falk:

And I was sure when I was digging it, that I had found a spring

Ben Falk:

that had never been found before.

Ben Falk:

Well, I was totally wrong.

Ben Falk:

I got four feet down and found planed wooden boards.

Ben Falk:

Like Cedar or hemlock boards that were handled like human, you know, shaped

Ben Falk:

boards, four feet under the ground, wood.

Ben Falk:

So someone had developed that spring probably in the 1800s, or maybe late

Ben Falk:

1700s and at some point someone had filled it in, buried everything there.

Ben Falk:

But what I was gonna get to is that later, when we started letting a

Ben Falk:

lot of vegetation grow, parts of this site had just been kind of

Ben Falk:

mowed and brush hogged regularly.

Ben Falk:

And just 10 years later, basically this year I noticed the spot that

Ben Falk:

Leonard had said I could find water 10 feet down is on a very steep

Ben Falk:

hill, about a hundred feet above this spring...horizontal feet and 10 vertical

Ben Falk:

feet, let's say, makes sense, right?

Ben Falk:

10 feet down.

Ben Falk:

And that vein is, that's the same water.

Ben Falk:

And there now is a willow growing quickly out of that spot.

Ben Falk:

I didn't plant it, but we just let stuff, whatever volunteer in that area

Ben Falk:

that wanted to grow, we just let grow.

Ben Falk:

We just stopped mowing that area.

Ben Falk:

And it turns out there's a willow there just raging.

Ben Falk:

Did it know that water's there because it's pretty interesting if you think

Ben Falk:

about it because willows aren't growing in most of this landscape, it's pretty

Ben Falk:

odd that a willow would be there.

Ben Falk:

The ground is not wet at all there, I mean, it's actually very dry.

Ben Falk:

It's a steep slope, well drained soil.

Ben Falk:

That willow's only getting water when it's tapping quite far down, like it

Ben Falk:

didn't get water for the first couple years anyway, or, I mean, not initially.

Ben Falk:

It wasn't like seed landed on wet ground and started, or that when

Ben Falk:

you see a lot of willows and alders, they're starting in wet ground where

Ben Falk:

other stuff doesn't grow as well.

Ben Falk:

And they're kind of thickening and they're established in those

Ben Falk:

areas and they're dispersing in those areas or running along them.

Ben Falk:

So this is like an island where there was no willows anywhere

Ben Falk:

near by and it's dry ground.

Ben Falk:

And there's this willow thriving, and it has to get probably about 10

Ben Falk:

feet down, or at least I know for sure, at least six to eight feet down

Ben Falk:

before there's any real moisture.

Ben Falk:

Leonard says it's 10 feet down.

Ben Falk:

So it's, it seems like, you know, that willow knew something about

Ben Falk:

that spot is what it seems like.

Ben Falk:

So it's kind of interesting.

Ben Falk:

So, and then the other spring I developed on this property, one of the other

Ben Falk:

two, was also at a key point in the landscape where it goes from steeper to

Ben Falk:

less steep, quite a ways out of zone one.

Ben Falk:

Very kind of remote, like in the woods and I walked into some wet

Ben Falk:

water as well in the dry season.

Ben Falk:

I could just see the ground was wet.

Ben Falk:

I kind of dug down a little just with my hand and the ground seemed really wet.

Ben Falk:

And I had my excavator in the area.

Ben Falk:

That's actually why I was checking it out before I was gonna move the excavator

Ben Falk:

away, just a little mini excavator.

Ben Falk:

And then I went in there and dug and I started hitting water

Ben Falk:

and I was like, well, this one's definitely never been developed

Ben Falk:

because I mean, I'm in the woods.

Ben Falk:

Like, you know, it doesn't feel like anywhere near where people lived.

Ben Falk:

Even though I knew in the back of my head, people lived kind of

Ben Falk:

everywhere in the hills of Vermont.

Ben Falk:

And I knew there's an old foundation downhill of this spot actually.

Ben Falk:

Turns out I get like three, four buckets in and I hit this huge piece of wood.

Ben Falk:

You don't find wood 2, 3, 4 feet down in the ground unless someone put it

Ben Falk:

there, you know, that's not where wood ends up and it was a perfectly straight

Ben Falk:

log . As soon as I pull it up, water starts pouring out of one end of it.

Ben Falk:

And I knew immediately, I never seen one of these except in a book, but I knew

Ben Falk:

it was a pump log just instantly, just cuz that's the only way that can happen.

Ben Falk:

It turns out, I jump out the excavator and there's a bored hole on both ends

Ben Falk:

of the log that someone had made that.

Ben Falk:

That's how they used to make water pipe.

Ben Falk:

They bore holes end to end.

Ben Falk:

And someone made that in the late 1700s or 1800s and the last person touching that

Ben Falk:

log was 200 years ago or 250 years ago.

Ben Falk:

So realized all of a sudden, wow, I'm like in an archeological site, like

Ben Falk:

I better , I better stop running this machine and be more careful, you know?

Ben Falk:

I eventually found about 10 of those in that area and then towards

Ben Falk:

our home from that area, and there's more in the ground for sure.

Ben Falk:

I would love to map them and maybe eventually unearth them all and get

Ben Falk:

them in a museum or hang them up.

Ben Falk:

But, they're there and they don't rot really when they're in the ground, cuz

Ben Falk:

they're just in anoxic, you know, they don't have really any oxygen there.

Carmen Porter:

what kind of wood?

Ben Falk:

Some kind of soft wood, pretty hard to tell.

Ben Falk:

I would think hemlock, but I think they used even spruce or fur too.

Ben Falk:

But definitely soft wood, about six to eight inches in diameter bored

Ben Falk:

perfectly end to end, a hole on one end, a hole on the other.

Ben Falk:

They're both in the exact middle of the log

Carmen Porter:

amazing

Ben Falk:

and these logs are eight and nine feet long.

Ben Falk:

Basically,

Carmen Porter:

Wow.

Ben Falk:

little, they're not little sections.

Ben Falk:

They're long.

Ben Falk:

And one has a male end and one is a female end.

Ben Falk:

One is a flared end and one has, you know, an open facing end.

Ben Falk:

So they fit together and seal.

Ben Falk:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

It's a pretty amazing technology.

Ben Falk:

They actually outlive modern plumbing from what I've heard from people, like

Ben Falk:

they're still in use in some cities, there's still these wood water pipes.

Ben Falk:

Yeah, mm-hmm the Midwest I've heard there is.

Ben Falk:

I know in Vermont they've been kind of replacing them over the years but I've

Ben Falk:

heard some engineers say the metal water pipe actually rusts out quicker

Ben Falk:

and maybe the plastic will last longer.

Ben Falk:

We don't know yet.

Ben Falk:

I mean that stuff's all new.

Carmen Porter:

that's pretty fascinating.

Carmen Porter:

And it would probably require quite a lot of land movement to install them.

Ben Falk:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

I mean, this is, you know, 150 years before any type of heavy equipment.

Ben Falk:

So they're digging these trenches by hand.

Ben Falk:

Two to four feet down is where I found them.

Ben Falk:

You couldn't find anyone do that work today.

Ben Falk:

Seemingly any old farmer did that work, you know, back in

Ben Falk:

the day or had someone who did.

Carmen Porter:

So when you're mentioning the vegetation, what plants

Carmen Porter:

do you tend to plant like in your ponds or along your shores, what

Carmen Porter:

are plants that you tend to prefer?

Ben Falk:

Kind of any and all plants that would add diversity and wildlife

Ben Falk:

habitat or food for people as well.

Ben Falk:

So like, we go to Vermont wetland plant supply, and wetland plant

Ben Falk:

providers and sow wetland plant mixes at the edge before the pond fills up.

Ben Falk:

And we're going for a lot of rushes and reeds and a whole bunch, you

Ben Falk:

know, there's like dozens of plants.

Ben Falk:

We never really sow cattail because that comes in.

Ben Falk:

That just is latent in that environment.

Ben Falk:

It seems it comes in even if you're far from a pond.

Ben Falk:

So I've never actually had to sow cattail and they're usually more than abundant.

Ben Falk:

I often will weed them so there's room for other plants.

Ben Falk:

We'll sow wild rice too.

Ben Falk:

That's actually kind of taking hold in all of our ponds to some extent.

Ben Falk:

The high diversity is key for just water quality and habitat beauty.

Carmen Porter:

So if you have something like willow coming in,

Carmen Porter:

are you going to take it out?

Ben Falk:

no, not necessarily.

Ben Falk:

I've barely ever removed a willow around a pond.

Ben Falk:

I don't know if I have.

Ben Falk:

I've cut them back sometimes, but, they're great for water

Ben Falk:

quality, for everything, for wildlife habitat, human uses, early bee forage.

Ben Falk:

I mean, I won't want a willow, let's say shading where I hang out by a

Ben Falk:

pond, cause they're a big plant.

Ben Falk:

The main plants that we sow that we see coming up, 'cuz we sow a lot of

Ben Falk:

plants that just kind of never do anything, I'd say sweet flag is a

Ben Falk:

big one , marsh marigold sometimes where it's like a little dryer and

Ben Falk:

then bull rush is really great.

Ben Falk:

There's a whole bunch of sedges that come up.

Ben Falk:

Joe-pye weed does well where it's like drier edges.

Ben Falk:

Cardinal flowers is good also where it's kind of drier and

Ben Falk:

other Lobelias and pickerel weed.

Ben Falk:

Those are some of the big ones besides like cattail, and also

Ben Falk:

blue flag iris is a great one.

Carmen Porter:

And so is there sort of a balance between what you

Carmen Porter:

are seeding and encouraging and then the volunteers that come in?

Ben Falk:

Yeah, exactly.

Ben Falk:

We're seeding a lot, knowing that that's gonna represent less than what

Ben Falk:

would naturally come in from the area.

Carmen Porter:

Mm-hmm

Ben Falk:

We're just trying to increase the diversity of what would be there.

Ben Falk:

But you know, especially if you're building ponds near other

Ben Falk:

ponds and especially if it's downhill, you're gonna get a lot of

Ben Falk:

dispersion from those other plants.

Carmen Porter:

And do you use a lot of what comes out of the pond?

Ben Falk:

No, I mean, not directly.

Ben Falk:

I guess you could say enhanced wildlife habitat is something we use, but as far

Ben Falk:

as like harvest and consume or make stuff with in a direct way, I would say most

Ben Falk:

of what's in the pond we don't forage.

Ben Falk:

Sometimes parts of cattails and wild rice, fish sometimes,

Ben Falk:

which we stock in some ponds.

Ben Falk:

on the edges there's a lot of stuff that grows like aronia and seaberry and

Ben Falk:

elderberry and cranberry that we do use directly and currant, those are on like

Ben Falk:

dryer edges, but still pretty wet zones.

Carmen Porter:

How would you say that bringing the water into your landscape

Carmen Porter:

has really benefited your site?

Carmen Porter:

What are some of the highlights, the things that you really appreciate

Carmen Porter:

about having water on site?

Ben Falk:

Mm-hmm well, I mean, swimming and cold plunges are a big

Ben Falk:

one just for health and enjoyment.

Ben Falk:

Micro climate enhancement for extending seasons, cuz they hold the

Ben Falk:

heat and kind of buffer temperature swings, for some of the year.

Ben Falk:

Definitely not in the winter, cuz they're frozen over.

Ben Falk:

Beauty and light, like daylighting of buildings, the light comes

Ben Falk:

off the ponds into buildings.

Ben Falk:

Wildlife habitat and that also plays into beauty.

Ben Falk:

We see all sorts of wildlife that wouldn't be here.

Ben Falk:

The soundscape is massive.

Ben Falk:

I mean we just listen to bullfrogs all night now, twanging away.

Ben Falk:

And before that it's the American toad.

Ben Falk:

And then before that it's the peepers and the wood frogs, those

Ben Falk:

are all sounds that just wouldn't really be in this landscape at all.

Ben Falk:

There might be some of those animals in some of the wetlands,

Ben Falk:

but if we didn't dig any of the ponds, there'd be none of those guys.

Carmen Porter:

Have you noticed like mosquito populations go down?

Ben Falk:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

I've seen those go down.

Ben Falk:

Exactly.

Ben Falk:

It's not like the water wasn't there.

Ben Falk:

It was just kind of subterranean and/ or in little like intermittent pools,

Ben Falk:

which is really good for mosquitoes.

Ben Falk:

And once you dig all that wet ground out...

Ben Falk:

it doesn't always have to be wet ground, but when you change that to an open water

Ben Falk:

situation, then the frogs and salamanders and everyone has access to the water.

Ben Falk:

It doesn't tend to be a place that mosquitoes succeed in.

Ben Falk:

I think, I think all those amphibians keep them from happening.

Ben Falk:

They're eating their larvae, I guess.

Ben Falk:

The bugs really come from like wet ground versus open water,

Ben Falk:

which is a common misperception.

Ben Falk:

Cuz I think most everyone thinks, oh, you make all these ponds,

Ben Falk:

you're gonna make it super buggy.

Ben Falk:

Not if you're really careful that all the water that's in the area is in

Ben Falk:

the pond or that you're not having like random little pools next to

Ben Falk:

the ponds, which poor grading, poor heavy equipment used can certainly

Ben Falk:

result in, if you're not careful.

Carmen Porter:

You mentioned the project that you just published,

Carmen Porter:

that you just presented

Ben Falk:

Mm-hmm yeah, I just shared a couple photos.

Carmen Porter:

Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Ben Falk:

Well, that's just the latest pond that I've dug here.

Ben Falk:

Pond scape, we don't just do ponds.

Ben Falk:

We do it, integrate it, and ponds are part of a whole landscape.

Ben Falk:

So everything around the pond is part of that pond scape.

Ben Falk:

That's just a nice, pretty good size pond with a big garden terrace around it.

Ben Falk:

And it's gonna feed a very large ram pump.

Ben Falk:

We call it the garden pond.

Ben Falk:

Better to look at photos of it I could paint a poor picture with words,

Ben Falk:

but I'm looking at it right now.

Ben Falk:

It's a great pond.

Carmen Porter:

It's really beautiful.

Carmen Porter:

It's very Impressive and amazing how you've integrated the food

Carmen Porter:

system into the water system.

Carmen Porter:

It just-looks like a beautiful place to be as well.

Ben Falk:

Right.

Ben Falk:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

It certainly is.

Ben Falk:

It's great, my son loves it.

Ben Falk:

I mean, it's a play scape for all of us.

Ben Falk:

It's our healthcare facility, it's where we go and sun bathe and swim

Ben Falk:

and exercise and stretch and play.

Ben Falk:

We have a woodfired sauna and jump in the pond.

Ben Falk:

And then it's huge buffer for the garden that's there and the micro climate buffer

Ben Falk:

and water...I mean, it's nice to have the water I'll dip my watering can in there.

Ben Falk:

I generally don't do a lot of watering with a watering can, but when it's

Ben Falk:

right next to a pond, it's pretty practical, even at a decent home scale.

Carmen Porter:

You, mentioned currants a couple minutes ago and this a little

Carmen Porter:

off topic, but I'm really curious.

Carmen Porter:

What do you do with white currants and black currants?

Ben Falk:

Well, white curarnts I pretty much just eat fresh and that's it.

Ben Falk:

Black currants, we eat fresh and we make mead out of them and we freeze them to

Ben Falk:

make popsicles and syrups and smoothies.

Ben Falk:

And then mead sometimes in the winter or just juices, like aids, mixed

Ben Falk:

with water and a little honey, like a natural Gatorade type of thing.

Ben Falk:

So black currant's great for that.

Ben Falk:

I'm not big on jams and jellies, but it's like amazing for

Ben Falk:

those, if you're into that.

Carmen Porter:

they just grow so abundantly.

Ben Falk:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

The black currant's like the easiest berry you could grow, you know,

Ben Falk:

besides, for maybe aronia berry, but much more versatile than aronia.

Ben Falk:

I mean I love aronia too, that's a pretty versatile plant, but if you're

Ben Falk:

gonna grow one berry and you don't wanna fuss over it, black currants in

Ben Falk:

this climate, I think is definitely at the top of the list for me,

Carmen Porter:

What do you do with aronia?

Ben Falk:

aronia.

Ben Falk:

We make juices and meads

Carmen Porter:

Okay,

Ben Falk:

mostly.

Ben Falk:

I think I've made some fruit leather too, but I don't consume much fruit leather.

Ben Falk:

I mean I no longer really consume fruit in the winter except in the

Ben Falk:

form of juices a little bit and mead.

Ben Falk:

I used to freeze tons of fruit to have smoothies, then I, for me

Ben Falk:

learned that like when it's cold out a smoothie, a frozen fruit smoothie

Ben Falk:

is not, is not the thing to consume.

Ben Falk:

Increasingly I'm trying to make a lot of mead with them in the

Ben Falk:

summer while they're fresh cuz I don't wanna freeze them, cuz then

Ben Falk:

the yeast I think is affected.

Carmen Porter:

Hmm.

Carmen Porter:

So what are some of your current projects and where can people find you?

Ben Falk:

Well usually, where I live, but don't don't

Ben Falk:

come visit unless you con...

Ben Falk:

don't come find me, but that's where I am most of the time.

Ben Falk:

I guess you can find me so to speak online, on our website,

Ben Falk:

wholesystemsdesign.com or, I mean, the best thing's come to our permaculture

Ben Falk:

course, if you wanna learn.

Ben Falk:

Permaculture course and consulting and our apprenticeship are how I

Ben Falk:

generally, work with other people.

Ben Falk:

And then we do design work, my larger company, whole system design

Ben Falk:

collective does site planning for people after we do a consult usually.

Ben Falk:

Yeah, so wholesystemsdesign.com is probably the easiest thing

Ben Falk:

to remember, way to connect.

Carmen Porter:

Perfect.

Carmen Porter:

I'll put the links in the show notes and any-other links that you

Carmen Porter:

want to have, I'll include there.

Carmen Porter:

And also I'll put a link to where you would suggest people buy your book.

Ben Falk:

Okay.

Ben Falk:

That sounds good.

Ben Falk:

Well, I appreciate that.

Carmen Porter:

Well, thank you very much for joining me.

Carmen Porter:

And I hope we'll speak again soon.

Ben Falk:

Yeah.

Ben Falk:

Thanks a lot.

Ben Falk:

Appreciate your time.

Carmen Porter:

Thanks for listening.

Carmen Porter:

As mentioned, the links are in the show notes.

Carmen Porter:

If you're enjoying the content, please consider heading over to Carmen

Carmen Porter:

porter.com and joining my mailing list.

Carmen Porter:

I send out an email with plant tips, garden insights, and latest news.

Carmen Porter:

I'm always eager to connect with other plant people.

Links

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