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Fruit In The Desert - Advice On Mentoring/Learning Opportunities?.

 
Andrew Michaels
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I've completed my PDC and spent some time on a few PC and organic farms, and I've been trying to convince myself that I want to start a food forest in the tropics. I'd love one, I'm sure, but one issue that keeps coming back up for me, that keeps me reading and wondering and excited, is deserts and arid landscapes.

Ever since I read, “the man who planted trees,” when I was in 6th grade I've been fascinated by the idea of regenerating wasted landscapes via planting. When I saw Greening The Desert  when I was in college, I couldn't believe what I was seeing – it was the magic of that short story transported to the real world.

I can't shake the idea of creating a desert food forest, so I'm going to stop trying and start embracing it.

What I'm looking for is an opportunity to learn, via hands on application and an experienced teacher, how to do what I want to do. I'm really not looking for more classroom time at this point. I want to get my hands dirty.

I'd ideally like to work with or for someone who is setting up a fruit-based food forest in a Mediterranean or warmer arid environment capable of growing a large variety of fruit trees. The area of the world isn't that important. I can travel. I'm currently in Asia, so I'm half way to the deserts of the Middle East or the Americas, and will eventually have to head in one direction of the other to get back to the US

The skills I'm really interested in working on include:

1) Rainwater collection/storage/use
2) Low-water fruit production.
2) Swales and other water-harvesting earthworks.
3) Arid-appropriate building techniques.
4) Drip irrigation and other water conservation irrigation practices.
5) Planting and managing a fruit-based food forest in the desert
6) Running a food forest profitably. Particularly larger-scale commercial applications.

I have some income so I don't require a stipend or a paycheck. I'm looking to trade labor for experience and knowledge. If it was necessary, I could probably pay a bit for the privilege.

The one major caveat is that I previously had an intestinal disease called colitis. I cured myself by adopting a diet of 100 percent raw fruits and vegetables, but I can't really stray from it and remain healthy. I eat what most people would consider to be a huge amount of fruit, and it keeps me very healthy and strong. It's easy enough to get in the supermarket/wholesaler system of the US and Europe, and in Southeast Asia, where I am now, even the most remote areas have markets where I can get plenty.

Deserts, though, tend to not have tons of fruit lying around unless you start growing it there. So basically, wherever I end up can't be so remote that I can't easily purchase a large amount of fruit at a reasonable price.

Some of you are well traveled or have met a lot of interesting PCs and probably know a bit about their efforts, so I'm hoping you might have a frame of reference to advise me.

Are you aware of any experienced English-speaking drylands permaculture practitioners working on fruit forest systems (not native-only or dominated systems) that might be interested in some help? I'd also be interested in other approaches if you have something in mind


I greatly appreciate your time and advice.
- Andrew
 
                              
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Have you tried emailing the PRI (Australia)? Or look on their website. Lots of permie projects get documented there. Also try the World Permaculture Network http://www.permacultureglobal.com/

There's a guy on the PRI forum who posted recently about a fruitarian permie project in Africa.
 
Michael Littlejohn
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Hi Andrew,

I am still about 9 months from returning to the Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas to do just such a project on my property down there in Presidio County (actually it is one of a cluster of interrelated projects I have planned) but it seems I will be doing the exact things you mentioned along with a few more interesting ideas..yes I would like one layer of the project to be a desert food forest...I have already selected mesquites, acacias, kochia, four wing saltbush, hackberries,Low tanin oaks, mulberries, figs, indian rice grass, quinoa and some wild cucumber/melon varieties. Let me know if you are interested, I've got alot of land and only a few people interested...seems like the place would sustain alot of different projects......Mike
 
Toby Hemenway
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My desert experience is limited, but living in Arizona for most of year, I encountered a lot of people who had tried food forests, and they all seemed to conclude that the desert is not the place for them. Fruit trees need lots of water. Desert trees don't tend to have large fruits. Folks were thinking of trying "chaparral forests" or "scrub forests" instead. Most trees need more than 20 inches of water a year, except for the mesquite and other species that have been mentioned here.

There are of course the great plans to reforest the desert, but we're not talking fruit trees there. BTW, the Greening the Desert project failed, and is now a shambles, something you have to dig to learn from PRI. The trees there were all under irrigation and died when the irrigation system was cut off, as I understand it. I've talked to people who were there recently, and it's a wasteland. So don't use that as a model.

If you can get easy water in the desert, you can grow a few fruit trees. But a food forest in the desert will need constant life-support unless you are using mostly desert natives and can get water for establishment. If we don't see native fruit trees in the desert, that would be a clue to their suitability.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's an example of a desert food forest. There does seem to be a creek running through it, so it is an oasis, not strictly "desert": http://www.permaculture.co.uk/videos/2000-year-old-food-forest

Also you might be interested in the work of Brad Lancaster: http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/
 
Kay Bee
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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Michael Evanari's book, "The Negev: Challenge of a Desert" is the most rigorous and well documented study I have come across using ancient methods of run-off irrigation to grow fruit and grain crops in a climate that gets only a few centimeters of rain per year on average. Well worth the read if you are interested in raising crops in such an enviroment.
http://www.amazon.com/Negev-Challenge-Desert-First/dp/0674606701

There is a permies member around that is working on a similar style of run-off irrigation project in a middle eastern desert, I believe. Can't recall their name right now...but they have posted some interesting videos.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Kay Bee wrote:

There is a permies member around that is working on a similar style of run-off irrigation project in a middle eastern desert, I believe. Can't recall their name right now...but they have posted some interesting videos.


Here's the one: http://www.permies.com/t/7227/meaningless-drivel/Intro-Project-Saudi-Arabia

http://www.permies.com/t/7546/permaculture/look-at-our-demonstration-site

http://www.permies.com/t/8039/permaculture/Al-Baydha-Project-website-finally

http://www.permies.com/t/8058/permaculture/Al-Baydha-Project-Water-System
 
Neal Spackman
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Location: Makkah, Saudi Arabia
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Hey folks,

i'm the guy working in Saudi Arabia. The only way you're going to succesfully get a food forest in the desert is if you are in an oasis climate or if you have a large run of arroyo/valley/wadi that you can use as your water supply. In the Negev, they used a ratio of catchment land to agricultural land of about 200 to 1. I'm doing about 15 to 1, but don't plan on growing a lot of the grains they did. The design i've got going uses an entire mountain as a water catchment (read: flash floods) and we are working on a system that converts flash floods into a seasonal stream, which can then be used to grow our fruit/forage trees. Also, i'm not depending solely on food forests--most of what we'll do will be geared toward grazing, so i'm combining Allan Savory's model of holistic rangeland management with Lawton's desert food forest (but with a much greater amount of catchment for water) and a combination of earthworks based on what they did in the Negev, what the Incas did in the Andes, and what Brad Lancaster writes about in his books. Feel free to send me questions; a lot of what we're doing is experimental, but if it works here it should work in any mountainous desert--we're operating on an average of 2.5 inches of rain a year.

Neal Spackman
Al BAydha Project
 
Kay Bee
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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Hi Neal - I'm glad you found this thread; apologies for not being able to recall your name earlier...

Your project sounds very interesting and I wish you the best of luck. Are you trying any of the microcatchment systems for planting trees as described in Evanari's book? That system seemed the most promising to me as it was independent of the wadi run-off and as described was a much less labor intensive design.

I am trying a modified version of the microcatchments for trees that are not in my long hugelkultur trenches. Even though we get much more rain that a desert, the consistent 6 month+ dry season makes establishing trees a challenge without constant irrigation.
 
Tyler Ludens
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My experience of micro-catchment type of earthworks is - build them larger and stronger than you think they need to be. I had made low earth mounds to direct water around individual trees, but over time the mounds have worn down and probably aren't doing much good now....
 
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