127: David Bainbridge on Gardening with Less Water

Using time-tested methods of efficient water irrigation for trees and plants.


David grew up in the West in a small town working in the family toy factory and enjoying the rivers, mountains and sage covered hills. After earning his BA in Earth Sciences at UC San Diego in 1970, he headed to UC Davis to complete an MS in Ecology in the multidisciplinary Eco-Grad Program.  He started a company doing environmental impact analysis, then transitioned to a solar research and design firm, Living Systems, where he worked on community design, passive solar heating and cooling, building codes and solar rights.

David’s research on passive solar heating and cooling led him to the California Energy Commission as a solar specialist, where he worked on the passive section of the state Solar Tax Credit program. He then established the Passive Solar Institute to continue research, education, and consulting on solar design and energy conservation. He worked in straw bale building systems and helped complete The Straw Bale House in 1994. He returned to academia and worked on desert restoration at UC Riverside and San Diego State University.  David’s current research involves micro-irrigation, cool pool design, and true cost accounting.

In This Podcast: David shares his excitement with Greg about time tested techniques on gardening efficiently with less water. David explains some of what he learned over the past several decades researching traditional methods for collecting and using the precious resource in food production as well as in basic landscaping.  They discuss the olla method, and how he found it explained in a 2000+ year old textbook. There is something here for anyone who has a responsibility to water a plant.

Listen in and Learn About:

  • His early years and how they gave him the foundation to get interested in nature
  • How not getting the job at the nature reserve got him into the Drylands Research Institute and set him up for the path that led him to where he is now
  • Some of the research they did at the Institute studying different dry climate projects
  • The southern California highway desert landscaping project that gave him opportunities to try different methods
  • 30 years of studying irrigation practices
  • A 2000-year-old irrigation textbook that gave him the initial information on clay pot watering
  • The Eco-grad program at UC Davis that really shaped and inspired him including the professor that was one of the Tuskegee Airmen
  • How he got started in passive solar design
  • His explanation of what is a microclimate
  • More on what “traditional practices” are and why scientific reports are not part of their development
  • The change he has noted in the last ten years
  • How he got the goal to use as little water as possible to keep plants alive until the next rain in desert conditions
  • A few irrigation techniques, including: Olla “oy-ya” irrigation and how that works through self-regulation
  • More about porous capsules a Portuguese method
  • Also: deep pipes, wick systems, ‘leaky pipes’, and drip tape

Doing an install w/ olla alternatives

As well as:

  • Why setting up the plants for a class on restoration was his biggest failure, what he learned about working while you are tired and what he does instead
  • Why he really thinks his work on super irrigation is his biggest success and how he sees impacts around the world
  • And more about his straw bale project has also been a great success
  • How he feels compelled to live another 30-40 years continuing what he is doing
  • His advice to podcast listeners which involves taking the earbuds out and paying attention to the things around us.

Books David Recommends:

A Sand County Almanac (Outdoor Essays & Reflections) by Aldo Leopold

Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited by Estella Leopold

The Climate Near The Ground by Rudolf Geiger

Books and videos by David:

Gardening with Less Water: Low-Tech, Low-Cost Techniques; Use up to 90% Less Water in Your Garden

The Straw Bale House (A Real Goods Independent Living Book)
with Athena Swentzell Steene and Bill Steene

YouTube Video:
Ollas: Burried Clay Pot Irrigation

How to get in touch with David:

Website:  http://works.bepress.com/david_a_bainbridge/subject_areas.html

Email: sustainabilityleader@gmail.com

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