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I have never grown anything but want to do something with this small side yard. It's approximately 10'x36'ish.
This is in zone 8b-9a in the Mojave desert.

I'd like to grow fruits and veggies although I'm not sure if this is a suitable location. Some info that may or may not be significant: this yard has been the neighborhood cats litter box for the past decade or more. Vehicles often park along the other side of the fence. I know nothing of the quality of the soil or whether it has contaminants.

Any ideas?
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steward
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Hi Chris, welcome to Permies!  That looks like a great place to grow stuff.  Fence and house block the wind, could have a shade structure if needed...  

Which way is south in the picture?  If that grass is growing without irrigation, that's a good sign (for a desert location).

Other folks living in hot areas can likely give you some great ideas once they know your compass orientation.
 
pollinator
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Welcome to Permies, Chris!

Although the area is small, starting with trees is always a good idea, as they take the longest to reach a productive age - I recommend starting a few in pots with good soil to get them started, then transplant after a year or two when you've amended your soil and worked out the rest of your garden plan.

In terms of your climate and water consumption, you could go Pomegranate, Carob, Mesquite, apricot, almond, fig(although it might branch out too much and take over that small space).

Get some of these germinated and growing now, then you can research annual and perennial veggies to go into sunken beds(not raised, those dry out too fast) that have low water requirements. the trees will also help make a more hospitable microclimate for certain plants.

Opuntia or Cereus genera of cactus both produce edible fruits and are easy to take care of if you want to stay on theme with "desert".
 
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Howdy Chris,

A water supply is close by, so that makes it easier.

Soil improvement would be the top priority.

If you dig small trenches and systematically fill them with non-meat kitchen scraps, then cover with a few bags of manure and mulch, and water well, you're on the way to growing anything you want that is suited to the climate.

Those fences and the house walls would make great supports for a vertical garden - maximise land use by growing vine or climber crops e.g. Passion fruit, grapes, snow peas, etc. Even pots could be hung from it to increase output.

Stacking multiple pots allow herbs to be grown without using the valuable ground space. E.g. Water loving things like mint at the bottom, dry climate ones like thyme at the top.

Even a large pot made waterproof would allow water plants to be grown and provide a water feature if incorporated with a small aquarium pump - fountain. Nice to hear water splashing in a hot environment.

The smaller dwarf versions of fruit trees would be better suited to this small 'courtyard' space - some in the ground, some in large pots.

Obviously pots can be moved to suit conditions and taken with you if you move house.

If you're REALLY willing to try something 'technical', some fruit trees could be espaliered to maximise space and impress visitors!

Sitting down with paper and pencil, listing all the things you want from a garden, noting the sun track for summer and winter, will greatly assist with the design as it will determine what areas are better suited to specific plants.

 
pollinator
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Blackberry/raspberry family is viewed as invasive so I think they can handle your location.
Pistachios/Almond/Apricots/Sandcherry/Prunus sub-family seems to grow in the desert originally.
Thyme/Rosemary family seems to grow in the desert originally too, so I see them doing well.
Wine Palm and Date (Palm) looks like a good fit.
Spinach/Amaranth family vegetables will do fine in the desert.
Figs/Pomergrantes and other such desert plants sounds good.
Other fruiting shrubs like gooseberry/currants/etc will allow you to fit alot into a small space.
I like the idea of growing vines on a fence line too Maypop passion fruit, Issai Hardy Kiwi, grapes will also work but they will need pruning.

As for soil prep.
Aerate the soil
Install Water storing/harvesting features
Minimize evaporation (mulch)
Increase soil life (compost, mushroom slurries, EM, worm tea, etc)
Increase soil mineral availability (soil life, compost, biochar, amendment, etc)
You will need irrigation if you can divert laundry and shower water that would be awesome. but regular tap water via drip irrigation under mulch works just fine.
 
pollinator
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Chris Schultz wrote:

this yard has been the neighborhood cats litter box

There is a disease which cats carry that can hurt people (particularly pregnant women). It will stay in the soil for a number of years and I strongly suggest you research recommended procedures. I only had a single cat to worry about, and she wasn't sick. It sounds as if you've had many unknown felines. Improving the soil microbes and mycorrhizae should go a long way to helping this, but please stay safe. Maybe there's another Permie who knows more about this.

And also:

I know nothing of the quality of the soil or whether it has contaminants.

There are a number of plants that are specifically good at removing contaminants so long as you send the plants you grow to the dump. This article lists what it considers the top 5: https://land8.com/5-best-plants-for-phytoremediation/   but of course this doesn't consider which contaminants you're most likely to have in the soil (with vehicles parking nearby, that will give you some hints - if the house is old, lead's a high risk one etc.) nor which plants would grow best in your conditions. I have heard good things about Sunflowers sucking up certain contaminants, and certain mushrooms are very good at dealing with spilled hydrocarbons. They've done excellent work in Britain on this topic, but again, if you can figure out what's most likely in your soil, there may be some Permies who know more on this topic.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:There is a disease which cats carry that can hurt people (particularly pregnant women). It will stay in the soil for a number of years and I strongly suggest you research recommended procedures. I only had a single cat to worry about, and she wasn't sick. It sounds as if you've had many unknown felines. Improving the soil microbes and mycorrhizae should go a long way to helping this, but please stay safe. Maybe there's another Permie who knows more about this.



Toxoplasmosis. Not a strong worry unless OP is a female who is pregnant or looking to get pregnant.
"Infections with toxoplasmosis usually cause no obvious symptoms in adults.[2] Occasionally, people may have a few weeks or months of mild, flu-like illness such as muscle aches and tender lymph nodes."
"Up to half of the world's population is infected by toxoplasmosis, but have no symptoms.[7] In the United States, about 23% are affected[10] and in some areas of the world this is up to 95%."
These quotes are just from Wikipedia but there's other good info if you google it or whatever.
 
Chris Schultz
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Wow thanks everyone! I'll probably get started on this pretty soon. The house is south to the yard so it provides a small amount of shade.

Starting with a potted apricot sounds like a good start for me while I work on the soil. I know of a few apricot trees around the area that produce quite a lot.

I really like the idea of taking things vertically by using climbing crops and various hanging or stacked pots.

I'll research into soil contaminants and phytoremediation and poke around the forums for some more tips on preparing the soil and germinating seeds.

I'm a male and likely already have toxoplasmosis since I've been around cats my whole life so I suppose I don't need to worry about that.

Thanks for the help everyone, I'm totally blown away by this online community! I'll keep this thread updated each step along the way. First up is cleaning up the yard and creating a rough plan.
 
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