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dryland plant succession for soil rehabilitation

 
                          
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Greetings. I am looking for a resource (or several?!) for plant succession in dryland areas that need soil rehabilitation. Specifically, a site in the Sonoran desert that has been cleared and graded for a housing development, but never built upon. I'd like to suggest a methodology of installing swales (or perhaps waffle-grids, microcatchment areas, etc) and plants as a way of making productive use of the land.  I am a relative permaculture newbie, but I think it would make sense to first install earthworks and plant with a pioneer species that can later be used for mulch. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
 
                              
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How big is the area? What is growing there now? What grows in the surrounding areas?

What's the soil like? Flat or hilly? Annual rainfall and biggest average gap between rains? Windy?
 
                          
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Here is an aerial photo of the area. It is a housing development west of Phoenix near the White Tank Mountains that has stalled with the economy. The surrounding area is sloped from north to south but the housing lots are relatively flat and mostly graded to drain runoff onto the streets, which is then funneled into a series of mitigation basins throughout the development.
http://www.tartesso.com/aerial_progress.aspx

The project is hypothetical for now, and is acting as my thesis design project for architecture school.  As it stands, I am proposing a series of cisterns in the mitigation basins that would catch and cover water, and offer a service program (bathrooms, kitchen, tool storage, etc) for those working the surrounding landscape (now the unbuilt housing blocks).  I am planning to make a schematic landscape plan using swales and water catchment systems along with plantings to make the landscape productive for the community that does live there, and that is now relying heavily on fossil fuels.  The area gets just under 8" of rainfall annually.. Less than a 1/10th on an inch of Rain in June, usually.  
 
John Polk
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I would imagine that the areas surrounding each water catchment basin could be set up as an oasis.  The picture in your link shows date palms, but I would think dwarf varieties would be more beneficial, as they would provide more shade around their bases.  Here is one growing in Dubai, where annual rainfal is under 4" :



Mesquite is native to your region, and being a legume, can help heal the soils.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm suspicious of that green grass under the tree in Dubai.  Our grass isn't green in drought, it is brown, or dead.  That looks suspiciously like an irrigated lawn
 
Tyler Ludens
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grizzly, I hope you're using Brad Lancaster's "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands" as your main reference work. 

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

He mostly deals with urban and suburban landscapes.  Volume 2 is the one to get if you can only afford one of his books.

 
                          
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Thanks for the responses all.. I have been looking at Brad Lancaster's website, but not his book. I should get it. Any thoughts on the plant succession of the swales? I've read moringa is good to plant first to chop and drop, then mesquite, date palms, figs, etc etc...

What other leguminous plants would be good pioneers in compacted soil?
What native desert plants are good for fuel?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Palo verde and mesquite both produce edible seeds. 

Here are some references for plants native to the Sonoran desert:

http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/sonoran_desert_plant_page.htm

http://cabezaprieta.org/list_plants.php?c=1

http://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_plant_ecology.php

 
Morgan Morrigan
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Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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would be carefull with mesquite - it will bring in javalina, which will destroy just about everything else.

Moringa is getting lot's of press right now, would go for it.

seems like all the mints do well, horehound is a pest up here in Verde Valley, but it does well with low water, and think the roots will have same effects as licorice if toasted. (liver tonic) They do break up the soil well, and shed their own duff.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Interesting about the javalina destroying everything, seeing as they are a native animal.  I have never heard of them destroying everything, but they are quite rare around here.  Feral hogs, on the other hand, are the devil.



 
                              
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Which horehound is that Morganism? (botanical name?).
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Don't know botanical. Mint family. near licorice in having a large, woody root. Just starting to go to seed up in Jerome.
Will grow fine on top of caliche or on hillsides. self seeding and sucker. but do put down little skirts of litter.

Javalina's can uproot everything in a 1/4 acre garden in half hour. jump a 3 foot fence. tunnel under chain link with cinder block buried in line. Tough buggers. What they don't eat, they take one bite out of and leave it. over and over.

Blind over 10ft. away ,and hate dogs. Called Peccary's elsewhere in the world.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I've always thought they're cute.  But  cute critters can be a problem.  Raccoons are adorable until they tear the heads off your chickens.

So I guess avoid mesquite if you don't want javalinas?  Seems odd that mesquite specifically will attract them.  Seems like just about any tasty plant would attract them.  So avoid planting any tasty plants?  I'm being facetious.  We need to figure out how to outsmart these critters. 

 
Hugh Hawk
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Check out the 'succession of supportive species' video linked on this page, if you haven't seen it already:

http://ecosystemstewardship.blogspot.com/2011/09/geoff-lawton.html

The following videos continue the concept.  This would involve many species of pioneer, at different levels of the food forest.  If you have access to the site then you can probably find some good candidates there already.
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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Mesquite bosques  are Javi's natural home, is the only tree other than palo verde that puts out big seeds that is native.
They are root vegetable afficianados, and nuts are second.
To hear them crunching up walnuts whole is awe inspiring.

They don't go after corn or peas/beans. Seems like they can smell moisture in the soil near roots? soil microbes/fungals?
will dig soil near old trees, so maybe that is it.
will dig perennial flower roots, and just uproot birdseed type seeds. not sunflower plants.
They pull up brick patios under bird feeders to get dropped seeds.

Will go thru a squash patch, take a bite out of every fruit, then go back and gnaw on the neck where it is coming out of the ground. Kills em 99% of the time.

Another critical feature of selection would be flowering times. True desert natives flower a couple weeks apart in sucsession. There were no bees here, so moths and bats and butterflys would do all the pollination in sequence.
will affect seed attributes. And if your type moth is not around then, you are going to have to rely on bees, which are fairly scarce most of the year.

Just remembered someone figured out how to get desert marigolds to reproduce. I never could get em started from seed in 20 years. Great plant with no thorns, and easy managment. Look under highway maintenence companies.
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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WTF

As  i understand it, witches were actually hags, the knowledgeable old gals, who knew the healing arts, and practices.

In the Womens Encyclopedia, they discuss the persecution really began with the destruction of the springs - the holiest of the sites, and then proceeded to the clearings in the woods. Finally the crossroads icons were destroyed, and turned into places to hang infidels and criminals.

They really started getting hunted in the time of the plagues, when they were healing folks that the fathers couldn't. More than a few stories of them healing bishops and friars, and being punished for it.
Then the fathers started wearing robes to impersonate the hags, to try and get some of the authority to rub off on them.

I think we should let the hippie chicks and hags run the place again. Was much more peaceful and productive then........
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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