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Questions about homesteading/permaculture in the desert  RSS feed

 
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Hello all,

I have some questions about the possibility of homesteading in the desert. I have this fascination with arid land and it's a real dream of mine to be able to own a little plot and start building something out of nothing. But, I currently know next to nothing about how to start.

For some context, I'm interested in getting a little plot something like this: https://www.landwatch.com/Colorado-Land-for-sale/pid/37001550. I think of it as "scrubland" or "semi-arid" but it's probably fair to call it the desert. My questions are pretty basic:

- How do I find what kinds of crops I could plant? I know that I associate certain kinds of fruit trees, like pomegranate, or certain crops, like millet, with being able to grow in the desert, but how can I figure out what would actually work where I am?

- Should I be concerned that there are no trees where I'm looking? I've read a lot about how they get trees to grow in places like the Sahel in Africa by building holes and burns to manage the water, but I have no practical knowledge.

- What's the best way to look to find the best land? How can I tell if land is good without seeing it.

- What are the major costs I'm not necessarily thinking of?

I would appreciate any help and advice!! I've been reading all I can on this site, but please please send as many useful links/guides as you can.

Thanks so much,
Carter
 
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The single most useful book I have found about arid lands is Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2 by Brad Lancaster.  His website is also very helpful:  https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

A helpful book which lists many varieties of plants suitable for arid lands is Growing Food in a Hotter Drier Land by Gary Nabhan.

How to look for a suitable parcel of land:  https://www.geofflawtononline.com/videos/video/property-purchase-guide/

The greatest danger in choosing the wrong piece of arid land is to find oneself in a floodplain.  Floods in dryland are devastating.  Though one wants some runoff in the land, it is easy to find oneself with a massive flooding problem (I know - I bought such a piece of land) which may be quite difficult to work with.
 
Carter Merenstein
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Thanks for the suggestions! I just ordered Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands from my library, it looks very promising.

Right now we're looking at some land in Elko, Nevada, where we hope to be able to purchase a few acres.

According to the agent, it's not in a floodplain, but on google maps it looks like there's a dry creek bed that runs through. Is it possible to tell how much an area might flood just from looking at satellite pictures?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I would say based on our place here in Texas, avoid a parcel where the creek takes up a lot of the land, or crosses the land between where you want to build/garden and the road.  Our place has two seasonal creeks that are dry most of the time, but in flood the entire bottom portion of our land can be under two feet of water.  This is, unfortunately, where our driveway goes out to meet the county road.  The creek bed itself looks tiny in that area.  We had no idea it flooded that much!

Looking at the image you linked to, I think it's possible that all the light areas along the creek indicate flood scouring, although it's possible it's just overgrazing in those areas, if this land has livestock on it.

Found a website with a link to a flood risk map, which might be helpful:  http://nevadafloods.org/risk.htm
 
Carter Merenstein
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Thanks! That flood zone map is super helpful. Looks like where we're looking is in an "area of minimal flood hazard."
 
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I live close to the SAN Luis property. Up near Crestone. Pomegranates are out.  Too cold. Most anything will grow with water. Very short growing season so look for plant varieties with short maturity. My biggest problem has been rabbits. You'll have to fence a garden in. I am planning on building a greenhouse so I can grow longer maturing veggies.
 
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Pinion pine might be a good place to start.
 
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Carter, Any time I see land with white soil I wonder about alkali or salt deposits. Some of the cheap land being sold is pretty bad in this way. One of the things I do is to see if the google maps have a close by highway that will let you do a street view. Sometimes you can get a closer look of the area. Looking for other peoples homesteads and what they are growing might give you a hint. One of the great things about permies is that you might be able to find some folks close by to the land you are looking at, who can give you some inside info.  You might also be careful about local zoning and county rules. I know that Costilla county has had a lot of changes over the last few years that are not very friendly to homesteaders. Maybe Rick can say something about that?
 
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