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Playing on the level...

 
Posts: 248
Location: Nevada
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I know what I am going to say is anethema in most kinds of permaculture and nature sensitive gardening...I have 2.25 acres of land in the Nevada desert and am thinking about having it leveled first, and then proceed to develop soil after that.  It has a lot of waves and ripples in the soil and most of the things I want to do would benefit from a more level field.also has a lot of stones, quarter to grapefruit size, and I could remove the larger stones in the process.  There is a difference of about 3 feet in elevation from one end to the other - the property is very long and narrow.  I am thinking of either one long straight slope, or 3 steps.  Tilling in biomass would be very easy to do in this process.  I am looking now for free to cheap sources of grass clippings, rotten tree and bark, cardboard, etc to include in the process.  I would even consider covering the whole area in cardboard, held down with fertilizer spikes.  I would have to automatically plant some kind of ground cover to keep the dirt from blowing away, and would probably have to import water for at least 6 weeks.  Any opinions or suggestions about this?  I would love to plant the whole thing in desert dandelions as the first crop, with some other drought resistance groundcover mixed in with it. It is not my intention to do monoculture farming...rather just to speed up what I want to do.  I think I could work much faster if I could use farming machinery, and flat - or flatter land - would make that much easier to do.
 
pollinator
Posts: 941
Location: Victoria BC
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I think you may be surprised at how much soil is lost and how much additional rock brought to the surface if you have a dozer or skidsteer scrape it all level. My climate is very different, but we do have hot dry summers. Watching the dust(topsoil!) blow off fields that have been inopportunely tilled or never got well established pre-drought is not fun.

On your scale, it may be quite practical to build up the low spots over time?

Abrupt bumps and slumps are no fun for fencing or machinery, but gradual waves aren't so bad... I'd probably try and deal with only the former.

Also depends on what the machine is doing. My tractor can handle shockingly rough terrain to get a tree out ofnthe bush. I certainly couldn't run haying equip on that roughness tho.

What are your desired uses that conflict with the current condition of the ground?
 
Tom Connolly
Posts: 248
Location: Nevada
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I have not yet done a complete inspection of the land - I will do that this summer.  Yes, I am quite aware of the damage that can happen with bare land that has been disturbed - that is why we had the dustbowl in Oklahoma.  My thinking: if the land is all uniformly flat - not perfect - planning for rain runoff, irrigation, etc will be easier.  If I were to do this I would have about 3 tons of cardboard ready to cover the land, with seeds attached to the undersides of the cardboard, cardboard help in place with fertilizer spikes. Eventually, I would like the land to resemble a forest (as much as possible in a desert) but initially would probably be blanket planting the land with a mixture of seeds that would be most well suited for rooting, adding nutrients and holding the landin place.
 
pollinator
Posts: 190
Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
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There is a reason most land is not perfectly flat. Firstly, the differences in elevation make edges and patterns that encourage diversity. If you want to do commercial farming, and ruin what topsoil you do have, flatten it first, but if you want to do Permaculture, learn to love the "lumpiness" in your terrain and to use it to your advantage. it is actually better for managing your water resources because it gives you more control over the micro-niches and the nooks and crannies where plants are protected and can work together with water resources. The expense of flattening everything will be a waste of time and a create a huge use of fuel and carbon. In a word: it will be a disaster.
 
pioneer
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Every place I've seen where people really transformed the desert,  they did the opposite of your plan.  They built pockets and contours into the land.  Pockets,  even small ones,  collect  organic material,  nutrients and rain.  You can get things growing in the pockets,  they grow and build soil,  and the pockets get larger,  more fertile,  build more soil,  grow larger,... Eventually the pockets connect and you have created a beautiful green ocean in the desert.  Flat areas tend toward the opposite,  rain runs off,  it takes organic materials and nutrients with it,  and nothing much can get started.  Just something to think about.
 
pollinator
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Trace is bang on. And let's not forget the wind. Even a small pocket, sees much less surface wind. It will fill up over time, but with water absorbent material. Really flat places are often really desolate places, when there's not much precipitation.

Efforts to reforest the Sahel region of Africa have involved doing the opposite of your plan. They did a video series and I think maybe a book about a guy. The man who stopped the desert. He created dips and lumps to capture water and soil and block the wind and create microclimates where his young trees could get a foothold.
 
master pollinator
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Cardboard is not beneficial in a dry climate.  It only causes the rain to never reach the soil, pretty much guaranteeing nothing will grow.

I agree with everyone saying the better plan is to leave the waves in the land.  Making more waves and basins is a good strategy since you have the money for earthmoving equipment.

Here is a very helpful website about managing rainwater in dry climates:  https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

The main idea is to create as many hollows in the land as possible.  Each hollow will become a center of fertility, even if you do nothing else.
 
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