How do you care for a drop of rain?

Updated: Dec 18, 2018

I think that a good ranch steward sees this as job number one. There’s lots of things that have to go right in order to have the green growing things (grass, trees and brush) to be productive. The V6 lies in a rain belt that is supposed to yield an average rainfall for the year of about 16 to 18 inches. But seldom dose this happen. Most years are dryer than normal but every few years along comes a rainy day and there appears on the horizon an obese looking water saturated cloud that turns lose enough of the wet stuff to drown a frog thus giving us our average annual rainfall.          So Jack, do you know anything for sure, well I’d like to but Mother Natures definition of normalcy is, there is no normalcy, things are always changing, always in a state of flux, always a moving target. So how do you deal with this moving target? The way I plan for the unknown is to make my decisions based on how my actions will affect a rain drop after it hits the ground. A procedure, that slows a drop of rain that falls on the V6 is a good thing but if the procedure accelerates that drop of rain 9 chances out of 10 it will be a bad decision. First my plan will always be looking for ways to encourage rain drops to stay as long as possible by putting barriers to slow there progress to the nearest Ocean. With this goal as job number one. I look to the future that will be always changing and in need of new solutions. But I think it’s important to look backwards from time to time and examine the mistakes I’ve made and try not to repeat them.           Wholistic Management has been and continues to teach me how I must consider the whole. So what is this “ whole I speak of”? Well it’s like a donut, only instead of eating it from the outside in. I’m in the center looking out as all these different facets of need pass before my eyes. So what must an old cowboy consider? How about this laundry list. Will it help pay the bills. Will my family, my neighbors, my country and the world be a very tiny minuscule amount better because of my care. Have I done enough to make a rain drop feel welcome who might want to stay a while before gravity or evaporation demands it to move on. Is this whole that’s been created, is it regenerating and if not why not?  Did I write a letter to some California regulatory body and express how their policy or policies are making it difficult for me to be the cowboy they might want me to be!! And finally dose Mother Nature endorse what’s going on?                  This past year has been another dry one with the rain gauge saying you got half of your  normal, tallying 8 inches. But what is different this season is the fact that I grew more grass with less rainfall because of a change in the way I think about Soil Temperature. I believe that over the next few years I will have the evidence to substantiate what I think. But I know that as I have lowered soil temperature by leaving enough of last seasons dry grass to insulate the soil from the sun’s rays, good things are happening in those 6 to 12 inches of Top Soil. Because of Capillary Action or if you prefer the Wicking effect both meaning the same thing. Capillary action which has it’s roots tied to the physical laws of Surface Tension basically says that water in soil will move from a wetter soil to its dryer neighbor regardless of the effect of gravity. A physical demonstration to better grasp this action is to take a paper towel and drop a little water on it and watch the water move in the towel from wetter to dryer. So let’s put this reality to work for the benefit of the ranch. Our California climate cuts itself into 2 parts. From November 1 to May 1 is our wet season and from May 1 to November 1 is our dry season with no rain expected and none wanted. We would like it to all come in our winter months making the dry summer soil mixed with winter rain, wetter on top and dryer down below, so this time I get 2 forces Capillary Action and Gravity pulling on my rain drop. This then starts our rain drops journey moving down through the soil profile which I want it to be like a sponge that can rapidly soak up water and then hold on to it for extended periods of time.                We’ve now gone through the wet season and this soil sponge is ready to go into saving mode so that there will be enough water available for use in the 6 months of dry times  to follow. This is where soil temperature becomes important. Let’s take a normal July day in our Cholame Valley where the temperature can be 100 plus degrees by afternoon. Taking a kitchen thermometer that’s new found use is to measure soil temperature. I locate a squirrel hole where Mr. Squirrel has cleaned out his burrow with dirt free of any foreign matter and leaves it on top to be heated by the summer sun. I take a reading of the black soil. Wow 120  to 130 degrees now I take my thermometer and place it under some dry grass and look “it’s 20 to 30 degrees cooler.                    This hotter temperature can be replicated on a much larger scale by having to many cattle eating most all the grass on their ranch thus exposing it to direct sunlight leaving the soil to hot for a barefoot to walk on.  Enter evaporation, the hotter the soil the faster our rain drop is changed into water vapor and sent off into the atmosphere. Now this same process is also playing out on another soil but it’s covered with dry grass that is not eaten into the dirt. With a cooler soil temperature this evaporation process is happening at a much slower rate. So at the end of the dry season I have more water stored in my soil bank thus it doesn’t take as much to fill it back up. Now I can’t prove absolutely what I believe to be true because much of what’s happening can’t be seen or touched. But What I’m seeing right now are indications that Springs on the ranch are discharging more water, Cottonwood’s and Willows in the Little Cholame Creek have  a greener look to their leaves and lots of new ones showing themselves.            So what else do I think would be helpful, in the revitalization of our soil water supply? A government that encourages rather than discourages the building of small stock ponds much like the dams beaver’s made many centuries ago. In fact 8% of our North American continent was covered with Beaver Ponds. More watering troughs to help manage our grazing lands and a reward system that gets results by praise rather than penalty will lead the way to a reinvigorated and sustainable landscape.

                               See Ya                                Jack 

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