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Permaculture rain garden at USU-Moab helps teach about wise water use

April 30, 2014
by Molly Marcallo, Moab Times-Independent

Utah State University-Extension Sustainability hosted “Building Rain Gardens,” a Bee Inspired Gardens workshop at the USU-Moab campus last weekend. Forty Moab residents participated in the workshop, learning water-harvesting practices by actively transforming the campus’ barren parking lot into a water-wise permaculture garden.

Opening the two-day workshop, USU-Moab Dean Steve Hawks said permaculture principles intersect directly with the mission of the university. “Our mission overlaps with the permaculture idea of creating a world that we want,” Hawks said. “This USU permaculture garden will capture that sentiment.”

Another Bee Inspired Garden, the USU permaculture garden, will create water-wise harvesting practices while providing a local food forest and pollinator attracting plants. It will also serve as a flagship learning garden for the local community and the campus, with signs explaining the permaculture methods.

Other Bee Inspired Gardens include Rotary Park, the Community Rebuilds Campus, and the Canyonlands Field Institute Professor Valley site.

Jason Gerhardt, an ecological designer with Real Earth Designs, led the workshop. Gerhardt posed a simple question to the participants: “How do we use rainwater in an intelligent way?”

Saying “water is not a waste product,” Gerhardt told participants that by living more in harmony with given resources, water runoff can be used to feed the landscape more intelligently. Water harvesting design, “is about taking rainwater running off impervious surfaces and bringing it back to the plants and the soil,” he said.

In order to harvest water at the USU site, the participants shaped the earth into swales (water-harvesting ditches) and added rocks to prevent soil erosion and conserve moisture. Jeremy Lynch, USU-Sustainability intern, called this practice “using native technologies.”

“Lining the swale with rocks is definitely a technology that’s much older than the European style of gardening,” Lynch said.

By using traditional methods of water harvesting, Lynch said the garden creates an integrated ecological system appropriate to the landscape of southeastern Utah.

“Even though we live in a riparian desert environment, everything we do affects the desert,” Lynch said. “It behooves us to be good water, land, and ecosystem stewards.”

Native plants such as golden currant, yarrow and Utah serviceberry were planted in the garden, along with fruit trees including jujube, apricot and Asian pear. The edible plants will provide food for locals while also serving as pollinators for the local bees.

Although members of the Bee Inspired group has a couple projects slated for next spring, they also want to develop into an active resource for people seeking information about permaculture. Lynch said a goal of the Bee Inspired Garden project is to “encourage people to pursue these ideas in their own way through our more public projects.”

Lynch said many participants joined the workshop to learn and hone skills to implement permaculture projects on their own home sites.

“Some of us [in the Bee Inspired Group] can help design and build projects,” he said.

Serah Mead, associate director of Moab-based Community Rebuilds, participated in the workshop along with Community Rebuilds homeowners and interns. She said there exists an intersection between the goals of the Bee Inspired group and Community Rebuilds, a nonprofit group that builds affordable, energy-efficient housing primarily by replacing older mobile homes with straw-bale homes.

“One of our principles is to provide education and sustainability,” Mead said. “What the Bee Inspired Garden [group] does for the larger community, Community Rebuilds tries to provide for our intern community.”

Lynch feels confident that these intersections and interests in sustainability will continue to grow throughout the Moab community.

“The success of the workshop is measured in community participation,” he said. “The enthusiasm was at a level that was encouraging, about 40 people each day spending their time transforming the garden.”

“It was the most successful and fun thing I’ve done in Moab,” Lynch added.

For more information about the Bee Inspired Gardens or to learn about permaculture in Moab, contact Lynch at: or Roslynn Brain at:

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