Dryland harvesting home hacks sun, rain, food & surroundings




When Brad Lancaster and his brother bought their home in downtown Tucson, the streetscape was a dusty place, devoid of trees or any vegetation.

In 1996 Lancaster and his neighbors started an annual tree planting project, which up until now has resulted in over 1,400 native food-bearing trees being planted (usually with water-harvesting earthworks) in the neighborhood. In 2004, Lancaster augmented the street tree planting by using a 14-inch, gas powered circular saw to cut away part of his curb to divert street runoff into his street-side tree basins. When the walkway in front of his home sprouted with life- like mesquite and palo verde trees- many of his neighbors wanted to cut their curbs as well. Lancaster approached the city to convince them to make his water-harvesting technique legal. It took three years for the city to change the rules. Today, three quarters of the neighbors on his block are harvesting rainwater.

Tucson receives just 11 inches of rainwater per year, but Brad argues this is enough. “Tucson has over a 4,000 year history of continuous farming despite this being a drylands desert community. People thrived creating crops, domesticating crops that are uniquely adapted to this climate, but in less than 100 years we almost wiped it out by becoming reliant on very extractive pumps, extracting the groundwater, diverting the river to the extent that we actually killed our river, we dropped our groundwater table over 300 feet so we didn’t want to plug into that paradigm.”

Today, Lancaster’s downtown Tucson neighborhood (Dunbar/Spring) is alive with drought-tolerant, food-bearing trees and residents harvest from the barrel cactus (chutneys, hair conditioner from fruit), the prickly pear cactus (juice, syrup & natural sweeteners from fruit), the ironwood tree (peanut-flavored nuts, processed like edamame), jojoba (oil, coffee substitute), mesquite (“native carob”, flour) and sweets from the “iconic saguaro cactus”.

Lancaster’s experimentation continues on his property: he calls the 1/8th of an acre site he shares with his brother’s family, his “living laboratory”. Here he plants around the greywater from his outdoor shower, bathtub and washing machine. He captures 100,000 gallons of rainwater per year on their property and surrounding public right-of-way. He cooks with a solar oven and heats his water using a 2 salvaged, conventional gas heaters stripped of insulation, painted black, and put in an insulated box with glass facing south to collect the sun’s rays.

Lancaster converted the old garage on the property into his 200-square-foot “garottage” (garage + cottage) or “shondo” (shed + condo). Nearly all the wood and materials are salvaged. The garage’s original cinder block walls weren’t insulated so he added 2 inches of foam insulation on the exterior to create “ex-sulation”. Lancaster relies mostly on passive solar to heat and cool his home, though he uses an evaporative cooler (swamp cooler) on hotter evenings. His kitchen is outside: a rainwater-plumbed sink, a hacked chest-freezer-turned-refrigerator and a propane camping stove.

His toilet is another experiment. “You can currently get a compost toilet that is manufactured and NSF-approved, but it costs $3000 or more. So we wanted to try making some site-built models that only cost $300 for which we got experimental permits.” His models include a urine-diverting barrel-style compost toilet (the urine is diluted to water plants and the fecal matter sits and composts for a year or more before being used as fertilizer) and a water-less standing urinal.

– Brad’s how-to style book “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond” (in English and Arabic)
– Brad’s website:
– Wild Food Growing and Harvesting:
– Street-Runoff Harvesting:
– Greywater Harvesting (including tips on soaps and detergents to use:
– Multi-use Rain Garden Plant Lists:
– More info on Brad’s garottage
– Brad’s YouTube channel 

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44 Comments

  1. Cleatus Spengler
    May 27, 2017
    Reply

    Interesting how left leaning academics always point to other reasons for crime other than ethnicity- even though Az was predominately White and now, with 'diversity' has gangs and crime. In Brads case he blames air conditioning. But I guess as air conditioning, being created by White Europeans, is another example of White privilege- scratch the above comment……

  2. Mike Ash
    May 29, 2017
    Reply

    Superb!

  3. Styx62 Ga
    May 30, 2017
    Reply

    Cool house and the photographer his hot

  4. T.K. Archibald
    June 5, 2017
    Reply

    Can't wait for the "hacks"trend to end.

  5. master yoda
    June 14, 2017
    Reply

    Mr. Brad Lancaster is such a huge inspiration to me!

  6. RaVen Sequoia
    June 15, 2017
    Reply

    English subtitles for the Deaf please?

  7. The Southern Lady
    June 21, 2017
    Reply

    This guy has inspired me.

  8. Elliot Mclaughlin
    June 24, 2017
    Reply

    This is seriously my favorite video on YouTube. I found this about 7 months ago and I've watched it probably 10 times. I love it so much. He has thought about everything and makes it so simple

  9. Frank Morgan
    June 27, 2017
    Reply

    Learned of Brad's neighborhood from him here in Tucson a couple years ago, there are many more resources now in Tucson because of his efforts! Watershed Management Group included. Steady progress.

  10. justgivemethetruth
    July 1, 2017
    Reply

    What was the permaculture course that Brad took? Any particular books or resources he can put out there?

  11. Allat Goddess
    July 2, 2017
    Reply

    You don't understand!…..The city doesn't want ANY rainwater in the paths, because that method makes you SELF-SUFFICIENT!
    THe Elite /gov/Feds want YOU, "peasants" to go to THEM for everything.
    THEN, they will give us GMO garbage, to keep us sick, NOT hav us grow healthy food.

  12. Purley Quirt
    July 15, 2017
    Reply

    WOW!!!!!

  13. Jeffrey Tan
    July 25, 2017
    Reply

    What a awesome lifestyle u have ! Great

  14. Dotty
    August 3, 2017
    Reply

    Does any of the people there dig the tree water catchments deep enough for a few ducks? They are great for fertilazing plants.

  15. Jaoqueline Bell
    August 6, 2017
    Reply

    I think I want to marry this guy. 🙂 Awesome video!!!!!

  16. Mel Rich
    August 7, 2017
    Reply

    Wow, great job! I love it!

  17. BLUE RIVER
    August 9, 2017
    Reply

    Do they need a septic? I am buying land in Tucson and they will make me have a septic just for kitchen water. How does he get away with kitchen sink water as gray water. They told me at the county this is blackwater.

  18. Neeti Sharma
    August 13, 2017
    Reply

    Bonus points for Brad for rescuing the lizard from the earthen pot 🙂

  19. Sangram Singh Rajvi
    August 14, 2017
    Reply

    I like that anti-theft system, Brilliant

  20. MlleNoko
    August 19, 2017
    Reply

    Fascinating!

  21. tomtom2806
    August 27, 2017
    Reply

    Wonderful and inspiring, thank you for this great example of ecology.

  22. Margaret Johnson
    August 29, 2017
    Reply

    I just love this episode so much. Thank you

  23. Jeff Bingaman
    September 1, 2017
    Reply

    One word; Olives
    Another three words; water condensation domes

  24. Jeff Bingaman
    September 1, 2017
    Reply

    While he is talking about his feces and urine being used on fruit trees.
    All I keep seeing is the moment on Seinfeld when Kramer after serving two germiphobes his salad he prepared while taking a shower. That was his way of conserving both time and water.
    Why yes he says, I water that fruit tree with my urine and fertilize it with my feces after they compliment him on the taste.

  25. Brian Harris
    September 20, 2017
    Reply

    A funny and enthusiastic guy

  26. FeelItRising
    October 17, 2017
    Reply

    If I was his neighbor and I ask if I could take down the fence and he can extend his backyard into mine. Mutually beneficial. I'd of course learn and help and he makes my garden better and his backyard grows.

  27. dannydeleto
    October 24, 2017
    Reply

    Dude you are the man!! Seriously.

  28. louisa curiel
    October 24, 2017
    Reply

    I love these kind of DIY self sufficient people. Thank You Very Much.

  29. Me Us
    November 1, 2017
    Reply

    So excellent. Chock full of great information. I'm pumped.

  30. Otto Von Dresden
    November 10, 2017
    Reply

    In Los Angeles county, his house would qualify as a nuisance and would be subjected to eviction.

  31. Dan Beard
    November 10, 2017
    Reply

    Shows what u can do if u work with nature and not against it . Good clip .

  32. Paul Larnce
    November 10, 2017
    Reply

    How ingenious! How cost effective, and labor intensive is it to maintain this system? It looks like you may have beat Big Brother.

  33. Verdana
    November 12, 2017
    Reply

    I love how passionate he is.

  34. Jesse Taylor
    November 17, 2017
    Reply

    It's incredible how much water there is in the desert. I love this guy's enthusiasm and passion.

  35. Mary Alvarado
    November 18, 2017
    Reply

    Man, I love this…. one of the most informative, educational and cool videos I've seen. Right on! Thank you!

  36. Marie GabrielDavidPio
    November 27, 2017
    Reply

    Beautiful work. What a blessing! Great work God bless.

  37. theunholysoul
    December 8, 2017
    Reply

    SWEET!

  38. A Kricket
    December 9, 2017
    Reply

    I love this guy! Being around him would give you a natural high!

  39. Denise View
    December 9, 2017
    Reply

    love it! your so cool. so much great information.

  40. Sriracha Hot
    December 11, 2017
    Reply

    Great !!! This video gives me hope .

  41. Life of Horse
    December 16, 2017
    Reply

    why can't there be some sort of a deck above the walkay puddles, so even when it is flooded it still can be comfortably used by pedestrians

  42. Marianne Bell
    December 24, 2017
    Reply

    Holy moly!!!
    I'm in love with this man's brain!!!
    Sir!? Will marry me!❤
    I say YES! YES! YES TO IT ALL, TOTAL TURN ON!

  43. Sue Jarrard
    December 28, 2017
    Reply

    Such an inspiration. Thank you

  44. FeelingShred
    January 2, 2018
    Reply

    I hope I can implement similar systems here in the deserts of Brazil, on top of some passive cooling systems of course. Interesting shit!

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