Shreveport is a city blessed with great natural wealth, which we can easily and cheaply turn into financial wealth.
Our most valuable and accessible natural resource is our rainfall. Roughly four times the volume of Cross Lake falls as rain on Shreveport every year—about 80 billion gallons! Because of our water-repellent roofs, our impermeable concrete and asphalt pavements, and our dense red clay (covered only by a thin layer of grass, and repeatedly stripped and compacted by lawnmowers), almost none of these 80 billion gallons gets absorbed into the ground. Instead, it flows away in bayous and rivers—and in wet seasons causes damaging flash floods around our region.
There is a simple and free way to change all this. We can reshape the ground to make it dramatically more absorbent and moist. Absorbent, moist ground is the ideal habitat for fruit trees, blueberry bushes, ornamental flowers, timber, and other valuable plants. In my last writing for Shreveport Magazine, I described how fruitful and productive Shreveport will become after a few years’ effort at converting our priceless rainwater, abundant sunshine, and temperate climate into agricultural wealth through plants. In this article, I hope to show you how.
First, recall a simple fact about water (that will allow you to predict, control, and use the rain that falls on your yard): water always flows downhill. Watching your roof or your yard during the next thunderstorm will illustrate this universal truth—and it will show you where the water is going in your yard.
The simplest, cheapest, and most efficient way to use your rainwater is by editing the slope of your yard in strategic places with a shovel—digging simple trenches that hold rainwater on your land and prevent it from flowing away. A simple trench (dug perpendicular to the downhill slope) can catch hundreds of gallons of water, and hold that water in place long enough to soak into the dense clay ground beneath your lawn.
1. EDIT THE SLOPE OF YOUR YARD
Water-absorbing trenches can be quite beautiful. They end up looking a bit like terraces, because (while they may curve or be straight lines) they are always level from end to end. That is, they follow “contour lines” (paths of constant elevation) in your yard. Because they are level, water doesn’t flow out one end or the other. Once it flows in, water sits in the trench—forming a long skinny pond which nourishes any plants you place nearby or downhill.
All you have to do to find a contour line is use an A frame level—a very basic tool you can make yourself by attaching three pieces of wood in an A shape, with a weighted string hanging from the top of the A. Find two points where the bottoms of the A can sit so that the weighted string rests in the center of the crossbar of the A, and mark those two spots with a stick, rock, or landscape flag. Then move the A over, placing one leg of the A on a spot you’ve marked, and then find another spot that is level. Repeat this until you have a line of level marks in an area where you want fruit trees.
FIND A CONTOUR LINE USING AN A FRAME LEVEL
Now that the math part is over, connect the spots you marked by digging a ditch about a foot wide and eight inches deep that goes through all your marks, just like connecting the dots. Put the dirt and clay you dig on the downhill side of your trench as you go. Some folks call this ditch a ‘swale’ and the mound of dirt you put on the downhill side a ‘berm.’ A line like this in your yard will catch and absorb water every time it rains, while you’re cozy and dry inside. It will also hydrate your yard so that it will be moist in the dry season, while keeping many hundreds of gallons of rainwater runoff out of your street and your neighbor’s yard in the rainy season.
SWALE AND BERM, BABY!
I always fill my trenches with rotten logs, sticks, leaves and grass clippings, and cover the whole thing with pine straw for a uniform look. All this organic stuffing decays naturally into soil without any more human effort, and it keeps the trench from having stagnant water that mosquitos could live in.
Soil creatures like earthworms, fungi and bacteria will move into this moist habitat on their own, making it fertile naturally over a few seasons. The areas all around a contoured trench (or swale and berm) are a perfect place for trees to grow, since their deep roots can drink up the water that is held in the ground for months after the last rain. Once the leaves have decayed into soil, the edges of your trench will be a good place to grow annual vegetables as well.
COVER WITH PINE STRAW
Many neighbors, who are now my friends, have helped me make enough swales in Shreveport to be homes for a thousand fruit trees in sites like Highland Park, Eden Gardens Elementary School, the Friendship House in Allendale, the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana, and private yards all over Shreveport. My Facebook group, Shreveport Orchard Squad, is planning on adding Southern Hills park and the MLK Center on Russell Road to our list of sustainable orchard projects in the coming weeks. Shreveporters have donated over $2500 to our GoFundMe campaign to buy fruit trees for these sites, and we will be plating them from January to March this year. In the coming weeks, I’ll be starting up a program that gets young Shreveporters on probation in Juvenile Court learning this method and digging gardens and planting orchards in their own neighborhoods, as their required community service. This will give them a skill that can turn free natural resources into food and a source of income for themselves and their neighbors.
This simple method of turning floods into foods will be on display all over Shreveport, and the way to turn these foods into a cash income is on display every weekend at our farm-to-table restaurant and cocktail lounge, The Levee, at 520 E. Kings Hwy, next to Nader’s Gallery.
I hope you’ll want to learn more about how to capitalize on Shreveport’s precious rainfall. Join the Shreveport Orchard Squad group on Facebook, stop by The Levee, and talk to your friends and neighbors about how we can revitalize our city from the ground up.