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Ideas on how to develop my Nevada parcel

 
Posts: 8
Location: Nevada and Salt Lake City
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Hello everyone,

I have owned this remote 40 acre parcel in the Nevada desert for a couple years now and since I purchased it I have been learning about permaculture basics. My dream for this land is to have a fun get away from the city. I have purchased an old school bus that I'm currently making into a tiny home/camper to leave on the land for whoever is out there à la Into The Wild. I plan to add future art projects out here (Idea from Zaquistan) Maybe a Rez golf course or frisbee golf. Overall just a fun place to be away from civilization.

I would love any ideas anyone has to help specifically in the arena of permaculture and water retention. A little bit about the land, it is in Elko County, NV with the closest town being Montello. Elevation is around 5700 ft. with an average rainfall of 9 inches per year and 23 inches of snow. This parcel has many natural hills and valleys as well as washes from rain. Though this parcel has sparse tree growth the fact that the two adjacent BLM parcels have much more dense trees makes me hopeful that trees can grow with a little assistance. The majority of growth is thick sagebrush, Utah Juniper and Bristlecone Pine. Wildflowers are everywhere throughout spring and summer.

Nearly the entire surrounding area for hundreds of thousands of acres is owned/grazed by the largest cattle ranch in North America. This means cattle have free range of this parcel but I think there is so much land they access that I believe overgrazing is not a problem but I'm not sure. For the dozen or so times I've been out there I have never seen a cow anywhere.

I've attached several photos to show what currently grows out there and to help aid in any suggestions. My immediate plan is to build up some small check dams along the washes and natural swales in hope to retain the rain water. Any sagebrush I dig up to clear a spot for a rain tarp/catch system I will put in the washes to break down over time. small earth works where I will transplant small native trees from the surrounding forest. Possibly digging more swales into a few of the hillsides.

Any tips on what organics I can grow once the water is managed a little better? Grasses, nitrogen fixers, bushes etc.? Keeping in mind that any building of good soil would be incredibly labor and cost prohibited due to the remoteness of the land.

Thank you in advance!

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pollinator
Posts: 11777
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I can't too strongly recommend the book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2 by Brad Lancaster.  More info about rainwater harvesting earthworks than one can implement in a lifetime.  

His website has lots of useful info also:  https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/
 
steward
Posts: 5145
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Montello eh? Yup, that's remote!!! And dry. You dared to start a fire? I'm chicken. I've had two near misses now with starting the whole county on fire. That sure is a nice fire ring.

A shrub that you might plant is goji berry. There are still some surviving along the railroad tracks, which were planted by the Chinese that dug the railroad 150 years ago.  

You might consider planting rye in late August, so that it can sprout and grow with the fall/winter/spring rains.

When I prune the branches from the lower 6 feet of trees to make the trees less likely to be torched in a firestorm, the cows decide that is the perfect place to seek shade, so it's a simple way to gather lots of organic matter. And with it being so dry, it sits under the trees and mummifies. So it isn't currently useful, but it might be some day if I can get some water and some manure in the same place at the same time. Nice thing about doing wildfire management, is that the cut off tree branches make wonderful checkdams.

Check dams a single layer deep have been my most successful water retention earthworks. Initially, I ignored Brad Lancaster's advice that smaller is better.



 
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I can't too strongly recommend the book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2 by Brad Lancaster.  More info about rainwater harvesting earthworks than one can implement in a lifetime.



It turns out we actually have a book review thread for his two-volume opus: Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster vols 1 and 2
 
Chad Zavala
Posts: 8
Location: Nevada and Salt Lake City
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Montello eh? Yup, that's remote!!! And dry. You dared to start a fire? I'm chicken. I've had two near misses now with starting the whole county on fire. That sure is a nice fire ring.

A shrub that you might plant is goji berry. There are still some surviving along the railroad tracks, which were planted by the Chinese that dug the railroad 150 years ago.  

You might consider planting rye in late August, so that it can sprout and grow with the fall/winter/spring rains.

When I prune the branches from the lower 6 feet of trees to make the trees less likely to be torched in a firestorm, the cows decide that is the perfect place to seek shade, so it's a simple way to gather lots of organic matter. And with it being so dry, it sits under the trees and mummifies. So it isn't currently useful, but it might be some day if I can get some water and some manure in the same place at the same time. Nice thing about doing wildfire management, is that the cut off tree branches make wonderful checkdams.

Check dams a single layer deep have been my most successful water retention earthworks. Initially, I ignored Brad's advice that smaller is better.



Thank you for the detailed reply. I was able to download a pdf of Lancaster's book. I'll dig into it right away. Montello area is dry, yes. But all of the natural washes show signs of large amounts of water around at times. I'm hoping with some earthworks I can trap some of it. I just ordered a few hundred sand bags as that, and collecting rocks, are my cheapest options for making dams.

I'd like to use as much of the natural swales as possible since 40 Acres is a lot to take on with no power equipment.

I also bought two  giant billboard tarps which I will be making into rain catch surfaces and collecting water in tanks that I can use to do more targeted watering in the hotter months.

 
Posts: 664
Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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Looks like there are a few drainage lines on the property – intermittent gullies/creeks? Is the property fenced to keep out neighbouring cattle? The reason I ask is that cattle tend to degrade water courses by eroding banks and fouling water. Removing their access to the water courses on your property will allow you to construct dams and rehabilitate the drainage lines with trees and shrubs. Doing it without fences will be a draw-card for every animal in the vicinity.

[My rule: if a neighbours sheep or cattle finds itself onto my land, it becomes my property = dinner for several weeks!]

For potable water, the photo below may give you a relatively easy alternative to collect and store it – one or more of these spread across the property would be good for man and beast – future rig-up of water troughs, etc for your animals too.

Looking at the photos, it appears the soil is sandy with rock chips? A few no dig beds (e.g. layered ‘lasagne’ beds) and hugel beds would be the easiest and most effective – constructed near a lean-to for access to a water supply.

The local plant species are obviously the best for rehabilitation works – so a small nursery (a timber frame with shade cloth) to propagate would definitely give you a running start. Some homework on these species will provide an indication on how to best use them.

Also, don’t overlook the usefulness of using vines as shade and fruit production on any structures you build – deciduous ones provide abundant leaf litter for composting. Old bathtubs have several uses besides the obvious one: worm farms (worm juice), stock troughs, etc.

Suggest you check-out the Permaculture Zones and Sector Analysis before committing to anything – it WILL save you a lot of time and money.
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Lean-to with a Tank
 
Chad Zavala
Posts: 8
Location: Nevada and Salt Lake City
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F Agricola wrote: Is the property fenced to keep out neighbouring cattle? The reason I ask is that cattle tend to degrade water courses by eroding banks and fouling water. Removing their access to the water courses on your property will allow you to construct dams and rehabilitate the drainage lines with trees and shrubs. Doing it without fences will be a draw-card for every animal in the vicinity.

[My rule: if a neighbours sheep or cattle finds itself onto my land, it becomes my property = dinner for several weeks!]

For potable water, the photo below may give you a relatively easy alternative to collect and store it – one or more of these spread across the property would be good for man and beast – future rig-up of water troughs, etc for your animals too.



Thanks for the tips. The land is unfenced. I kind of like this fact since there is nothing man made as far as the eye can see in any direction. But as I mentioned in the original post I believe the cattle range on so much land that over grazing is not an issue.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 11777
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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If you create a green patch with rainwater harvesting, the cattle (and everyone else) will eventually congregate on your land.

(Most open rangeland in the desert West is severely overgrazed and badly damaged. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/grazing/)
 
Joseph Lofthouse
steward
Posts: 5145
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Legally, Nevada is open range, and cattle are allowed to roam anywhere that they aren't fenced out. I welcome cattle at my place, because they eat vegetation and reduce fire risk. And I love the presents that they leave.  
 
Posts: 174
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Find a tractor supply store. A six foot "T" post is about five bucks.

I might have about twenty acres fenced off. If I'm desperate i place them 50 feet apart, (i said desperate) otherwise twentyfive feet apart with the plan of another in the middle at twelveish apart. With fence stays between, they make all the difference. If cows are familiar with fencing then three strands of barbed wire will keep them out. Give up on controling a calf.

I am jealous of your trees. All of the trees in my area, for miles and miles are at the ranchers fence line, actually the trees are the fence line, cut down so many years ago.

Siberian elm trees are fast growing and hardy. If you want seeds PM me.



 
Posts: 40
Location: Denver CO
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I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I'd do with a chunk of northern Nevada.  That land looks way more diverse and interesting than most of the land like that I see for sale though.  Really nice.

I would start by fencing off an acre or so, just to keep random cattle out and establish a manageable sized area to start with.  I'd try to include as diverse an area as possible, with different facing slopes, some of the gully, different native vegetation, etc.  Within this area I'd focus on filling the voids between spots where the native plants are already growing well.  I'd try to get clumps of different plants established, creating small beds, 10 - 20 sq ft spread across the different types of areas within the acre.  I'd throw as many different seeds as I could collect at it in a shotgun approach to see what can naturalize well and then go with what works.  If you have space at your main home and a vehicle to move them you could probably start these clumps at home and transplant once established.  Maybe burlap sacks with 50 lbs of dirt and compost could be used to plant into then move and transport?  As I worked out the bugs with this system the main acre would become sort of a nursery to supply plants and seeds for the rest of the property.
 
pollinator
Posts: 519
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Before you start putting in dams and catchments, find out what your water rights are.  A fence might not bother the big ranch, but using their water can cause a swift negative reaction.  

If you are not allowed to intercept and store water, you can still slow it down enough that it soaks deep into your soil.  Keyline plowing, microcatchments (best for shrubs and trees) and subsurface dams are good tools for that.

A quick internet search shows that Nevada, since 2017, now allows property owners to collect rainwater from the roof of a single family dwelling for non-culinary use.  That isn't a particularly large catchment area, but you might be able to fudge it a bit with an adjoining carport and patio cover.  You could also incorporate your dwelling into a pole barn (that is my plan, if I ever get some land in the sticks).

Snowmelt will likely be your primary source for water, so maximize your property to conserve the snow against sublimation by strategically placing drift fences to encourage drifting in naturally shaded areas and planting trees to shade areas (Winter and Spring shade) where the snow naturally accumulates but it is not shaded.

Also, does Elko County require you to drill a well and put in sewage treatment?  Many Utah counties use vacation property owners as cash cows.  I hope the trend has not crossed the border.

I agree that you will need to fence off areas that are greener than the surrounding area.  You will need to worry about more than cattle.  You could probably squeeze maybe 2 to 5 acres of sub-irrigated land out of a 40 acre catchment.  You might also be able to do some dry farming of grain (I'm sure there is a sustainable method somewhere on the internet).

Good luck with your adventure.
 
pollinator
Posts: 241
Location: Dolan Springs, AZ 86441
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Chad Zavala wrote:Hello everyone,

... Overall just a fun place to be away from civilization.

...permaculture and water retention.
This parcel has many natural hills and valleys as well as washes from rain.



Start at the top slope of each identifiable wash.Using rocks, tree stumps or other gabbons, pick a contour line that can be 'enhanced' with hand dug/raked swales to spread the water in the wash out to SLOW, SPREAD, AND SINK. Use the existing terrain (and your dug-up vegetation) to your advantage.

You can store a lot of rainwater in a 1' or 2' foot wide swale that follows an existing contour line. Use an"A-Frame" plumb bob level-finder to map out a level contour across a slope.  Can also be used to check the level of the tops of your dirt mounds. Combining the level swales with the intersection with the "leaky-weir" designed to back-up the water into a conveniently located 'meadow' of native grassland plants.

Even Nevada has had grasslands, especially if you can get trees started as well. It's difficult to explain without diagrams.


Chad Zavala wrote:
Nearly the entire surrounding area for hundreds of thousands of acres is owned/grazed by the largest cattle ranch in North America. This means cattle have free range of this parcel but I think there is so much land they access that I believe overgrazing is not a problem but I'm not sure. For the dozen or so times I've been out there I have never seen a cow anywhere.



Depending on the species of grasses and the time of the year, the desert grasslands can look pretty bedraggled and overgrazed. In many cases, using regenerative grassland management and "mobs" of livestock, these open-range grasslands could be much better managed for water conservation (underground in plant roots), erosion control weirs, and ultimately the return of a soil-based ecology of plants animals and insects. The biggest difference is how carefully regenerative agriculture managers would be plotting the size and movement of "the herd" over the available managed grasslands, as opposed to the current prevailing practice of allowing the cattle to graze in single to 5 cow groups but never bunched up. Wooden pallets can be used to keep livestock away from seedling trees.

Chad Zavala wrote: Any tips on what organics I can grow once the water is managed a little better? Grasses, nitrogen fixers, bushes etc.? Keeping in mind that any building of good soil would be incredibly labor and cost prohibited due to the remoteness of the land.

Thank you in advance!



Plant your swales with as varied a mix of as many different kinds of seed as you think you can get to grow. 1st, develop the water-harvesting swales, then plant the swales with seed (using the pallets to keep the unwanted grazers away. Try to plant ahead of expected water events.
 
pollinator
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Location: Kachemak Bay, Alaska (usda zone 6, ahs heat zone 1, lat 59 N, coastal, koppen Dfc)
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Congratulations on your land acquisition.  I remember reading about 'microcatchments', which are probably in Lancaster's book too.  I think you could do one or more in a weekend.  Here is a pdf flyer about them:
http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/SERG/techniques/microcatch.pdf
 
Mark Kissinger
pollinator
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Thanks for the tips. The land is unfenced. I kind of like this fact since there is nothing man made as far as the eye can see in any direction. But as I mentioned in the original post I believe the cattle range on so much land that over grazing is not an issue.



Overgrazing is actually the main issue on your property. Do not be deceived about the few numbers of cows and "all that acreage". Open-range livestock management does not manage the GRASS resource, it manages the weight of the cows. Over time patches of grass lands become overgrazed, and then never recover, leading to the general degradation of the entire open range.

If you want to improve the soil/water, ecology, you will need to fence off at least portions of your property until it recovers. Perhaps some type of portable fencing (electric?) could work. Fence off meadows as you work on them. They will make good paddocks for later grass management using livestock as the mowers. You don't have to fence off your entire 40 acres--just the parts you want to keep livestock free.
 
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I live in the High Desert of California. 3400'.  I tried, really tried, permaculture.  It was a total bust for me.  With no real constant supply of rain, nothing composted.  After three years it looked the same as when I laid it down on the ground.  I moved to a passive hydroponic system, with air stones in the summer because of the heat.  Everything is under 90% shade cloth.  It has been a resounding success and the water does not get wasted, not even one drop.  I now have even all my fruit trees (espalier or dwarfed) and vines in that same passive Krakty system and even at over 100 degrees everything is lush and relatively pest free.   Attaching a pic of my melon table (everything is elevated because of ant problems that are prevalent in arid regions).  This pic is taken this week.
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Elevated Melon Growing Table Passive hydroponics.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 11777
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Purity Lopez wrote:I live in the High Desert of California. 3400'.  I tried, really tried, permaculture.  It was a total bust for me.  With no real constant supply of rain, nothing composted.

 

Greening the Desert in Jordan makes compost in pits.  They get 4 - 7 inches of rain per year.  

Permaculture is such a broad subject.  It's possible you didn't try the appropriate techniques for your locale.

 
gardener
Posts: 1153
Location: Longbranch, WA
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Rather than rant about poor land management around your 40 acres, I suggest you think about your land management of your intended use. Which seems to be the direction of your original post.
When you visit the land bring as much organic material as you can use on site and possibly what is not being used at home. Make sure the wast is strategically placed with seeds where it can absorb winter water and not be washed away.  think of that succulent behind the rock picture.
I recommend biennials because these seeds sprout with the first rain and concentrate on putting down a tap root with only a small rosette of leaves at the surface then the root sends up a flower stalk in the spring and makes a lot of seed to blow about and find a niche to repeat  The root leaves organic material in the soil and the stalk becomes a trap for surface material. 3 that are prolific on my dry portions are mullen, evening primrose and California poppies. Of coarse there is nothing wrong with dandelions. Mullen is an outstanding plant because the fuzz on the leaves is used by the weaver bees to make the brood chambers in hollow flower stalks from the previous year.
So think of your visit to the land as being like the cattle that visited under Joseph Lefthouse's trees. Each visit leaves the land a little richer.
 
Posts: 29
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Chad, I wrote a really long reply about my data from Southern Nevada.  Then the site timed me out. I'll see if I can find it in Drafts.  If not, I'll try to recreate it
Chris
Fellow Permaculture Enthusiast
 
Chris Ferguson
Posts: 29
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Chad:
I had website references and everything.  Okay - here is the synopsis. Lived in Henderson for 6 years.  We did a demonstration garden in Boulder City.  My discussion was on the high desert of Northern Nevada, the Great Basin Desert which is Southern Nevada (are you part of it?) and the Sonoran Desert of Arizona:

Mesquite trees - Native Americans ground seeds for flour
melons
pumpkins
The famous Tomato Lady, Species: Hawaiian Tropic http://sweettomatotestgarden.com. (harvested volumes of tomatoes using her method)
edible camas - of Lewis & Clark days.
Major Resource:  Springs Preserve. springspreserve.org.  Acreage located on the original water source, the historic springs, otherwise known in Spanish as.  "Las Vegas".

I'm going to post this, then continue so I don't lose it.
 
Chris Ferguson
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Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Camas reference:  https://www.nps.gov/lecl/learn/nature/common-camas.htm
Hey = not to be confused with the highly toxic white=flowered camas = Meadow Death Camas

Nitrogen-fixing, edible groundnuts - tubers are mail-ordered. (may not grow until Swales well established)
There is a native Bamboo of the Sonoran desert and Mexico. (found info in Springs Preserve library)
There is a native orchid in the Red Rock Canyon. (may grow in established swale)

DOn't forget Bill Mollison's video, Intro to Permaculture, where he shows the rancher that drug the "desert imprinter" over his land.  Remember the triangular-shaped dents collected seeds in the wind, water in the rain and changed the barren land to prairie.  Also, the civil engineering 60-year-old swale model.  Wonder if you can get more info on that effort to speed up the cycle for your land.

Trying to remember what other success we had.  With our serious heat, we used to let the plums dry on the tree to get dried, sweet plums.  We were too lazy to pick them and just went up and bit them off the dwarf tree.  LOL.

CHris
Fellow Permaculture Enthusiast
 
Chris Ferguson
Posts: 29
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Hawaiian Tropic tomato = thick skin to hold in water, prevent skin split, allowed to vine along the ground and cover all fruit with leaves to avoid direct sun exposure, then sheet mulch with shiny silver-colored mulch to reflect heat that they love and keep out pests.

C
 
Chris Ferguson
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Springs Preserve had tons of success with trees and plants from Australia but I'm kind of leery of imports and prefer to go native.
C
 
Posts: 26
Location: Colorado Springs, Zone 4b
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Hi Chad

I've often thought of what I'd do if I got a bunch of dry, open land. Here in CO that would be prairie with ~15" rain per year. You've got drier but at least your land looks like it has running water at times as well as trees. It sounds like you have the added advantage that you've had some time to observe your land across a number of seasons.

Definitely a 1+ for Brad Lancaster's book. I'd start with fencing it but everyone else has mentioned that. The last thing you want is someone's outlaw cow deciding that the culmination of all your hard work tastes like candy. Some grazing would be good if you could control the intensity and duration, thus fences.

I think you're on the right path with check dams. You don't hold the water, at least on the surface, but make it soak in. In CO we've got the majority of the world's water lawyers/nazis so making a pond is out. Ponds don't make sense in a dry climate anyway. Your water is exposed to evaporation. However, your check dam will collect organic matter and sediment, both of which will hold water below soil level. Use the sagebrush or whatever brush you have upstream of rocks so they help catch sediment. I suppose you might need to weigh brush down with rocks so it doesn't blow away. Make sure that water running over the top of your check dam doesn't drop straight down onto dirt. It needs something hard that's at ground level, otherwise the water will undermine your dam. Diversion swales away from your arroyos could be useful. On a smaller scale (easier to make) would be planting in pits.

You're going to want wind breaks. They'll keep the wind from drying everything out so quickly. Long term you'll want a living windbreak but I've wondered if putting up snow fencing would be a good short term solution. Hopefully catch a bit more snow in the process, too. After some observation to see where snow drifts you could dig pits, fill them with any good soil you have, lots of mulch, and plant some kind of really hardy tree or shrub. Maybe just throw lots of seeds in and see what is hardy enough to germinate. Pits are what you want to plant in in dry places. Save your topsoil if you have any to put down in the bottom. Use lots of mulch. Sometimes you need to have an "Island" in the middle so the roots don't get completely waterlogged. I'm not sure if that will be a problem for you, though. Just something to watch.

Someone mentioned importing as much organic matter as you have. I'd bring in wood chips, grass clippings or whatever you have access to. Hopefully if you get them thick enough or in pits (maybe in your drainages?) they'll compost or at least hold water.

I'm not sure how much you'll be at your land, but be deliberate with greywater. You might be able to get some shade trees for your camper or something established. I suppose you could even run it to your compost pit but I think I'd only do that if I was composting and establishing a tree in the same pit.

For your map, it would be interesting to be able to look at it on different maps. caltopo.com would let you save the outline of your land and view it over satellite image or a variety of topo maps.

You've got a long project going so be patient. I'd try working just a few spots really well and letting hem spread over the course of years. You said you wanted to just get out of town but you might ask "what would make being here even more desirable/pleasant?" I'd think some kind of shade would make me more likely to spend time there. I suppose you could even excavate your own cave to stay cool. But the more reasons there are to visit your land the more likely you are to actually go there. Frisbee golf, shooting range, practicing bushcraft skills, hunting, stargazing, whatever.

Plant species. I'd look into yucca, cactus, russian olive, siberian peashrub, mesquite, alfalfa, and pinyon pine. Junipers (western red cedar) are probably hardy but probably don't have enough redeeming characteristics to make them worth planting.

Have fun! I'm somewhat jealous of your project and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
Daniel
 
steward & bricolagier
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I merged your stuff with the following thread. I hope that is okay by you.
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Posts: 136
Location: Sunset Zone 27, Florida
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Is that purple flowered plant on the left of the succulent rosette a stand of Veronica spicata? If it is, it has some medicinal properties. I have some here growing nonnatively on my scrub forest new property here in west Florida (think long hot dry springtime and hot rainy fall.) If i had your land i would dig the compost pits -have had a lot of success with sunken beds and mulched pathways.

I have had great success with Salvia fulgens (Cardinal sage), Agave americana (Century plant) and Opuntia spp. (prickly pear cacus). All can handle heat and dry and no care, and are edible. My rabbits love them! Ok...so they dont eat the prickly pear too much. But they will eat the Agaves with no trouble. I plan on the future ability to bring a cartrunkload of manure to the property and bring home a trunkload of growies for the rabbits. Plus camping, frisbee golf, and scorpion hunting for the kids. On a lot less land than yours.

I would be interested to learn what was natively being grown to eat there - maize? cactus?
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Blue carpet Speedwell
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Opuntia seedlings
 
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This is a most fantastic place to have 40 acres. You aren't far from Jarbidge! The most beautiful area of the state...imho.
 
Posts: 186
Location: 7b desert southern Idaho
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I can collect a lot of dry organic material in my fence when the wind blows....and damn the wind sure blows.
Course, the reason Nevada gets so much wind...California blows and Utah just sucks!
 
pollinator
Posts: 179
Location: Southeast Arizona, Latitude 31, Zone 8A, Cold Semi-Arid, USGS Ecoregion 79a
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How exciting, Chad! Sounds like you love the land and have great ideas for it. I'm enjoying reading others' ideas for it, too.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:A shrub that you might plant is goji berry. There are still some surviving along the railroad tracks, which were planted by the Chinese that dug the railroad 150 years ago.



There are other species of Lycium -- such as Lycium palladium: pale wolfberry or pale desert-thorn, which we have in our area -- that are native to the southwest U.S. and Mexico. It's got edible berries very similar to goji berries if you can get any before the critters do.

I second (or third, or more?) recommendations for prickly pear and other Opuntia, mesquite and other desert leguminous trees like acacia, agave, yucca, Pinyon pine, etc. Your land looks like primarily juniper scrubland, is that right? I had a little land like that, and it was supposed to have Pinyon as well, but I never could find any; and things like cacti and mesquite seemed to only grow in canyons and by creeks a little lower down. But still, worth a try, especially if you have any ravines that aren't made bare by repeated flooding. Any types of oaks that grow around there and you can encourage would be beneficial (insects, wildlife, acorns, etc.). Here it's Emory oaks (Quercus emoryi), which are great and have acorns that need little or no leaching. We're a little over 1,000 feet lower than you, but they like it a little higher up than us. We also like and encourage all sorts of Portulaca relatives (purslane, horse purslane, flame flower, jewels of Opar), devil's claw (Proboscidea parviflora), and the wild gourds (Cucurbita foetidissima and digitata and Apodanthera undulata) for edibility and/or medicinal qualities as well as their ability to grow in and cover soil in harsh conditions. It seems like flame flower (Talinum aurantiacum) and hog potato (Hoffmannseggia glauca) may break up clay soil, and they have edible tubers if you can find them down there... Basically these are our wildflowers, and the ones that already grow on your land might be even better! We just try to collect as many seeds (or tubers) as we can nearby and then seed them as thickly as we can where we want them.

I'm sure this is overly basic, but as I don't have a PDC and much of what we do isn't by the books (although Lancaster's are fantastic and hugely helpful), I often don't know what the starting point is, so this is just what we've noticed and done: In addition to the washes you observe, wherever you make trails (foot or vehicle) around your property, the water will follow there as well, and plants will follow the water. We observe the former and anticipate the latter and then slow down and occasionally redirect the water somewhat, keeping it going generally in the directions it wants to, using channels and berms at some crucial points. Then, having helped the water get where we want it to get and encouraged it to soak in (via further earthworks something like ridges and basins, as well as mulch), we know where to put seeds and seedlings. Mulch and build brush dams with materials on-site, as you and others have said. Our mulch is debris from our wood chopping area (mostly mesquite, some other native woods) and weeds and brush we clear from areas either for keeping rattlesnakes away from living areas (hopefully you don't have this issue at your altitude) or planting other things there. All of this can be done slowly by hand, as you have time and ability, and functions can be stacked.

Do you know what's downstream from your land? The land I had in juniper scrubland was part of the feeding area for the headwaters of one of Arizona's main rivers, so the washes across that land fed those headwaters. Now, if you slow water in the washes down and it filters into the aquifers and those feed the headwaters, great; I'm just saying observe beyond your land, too. We looked at USGS maps and talked to as many scientists and local residents as we could, although I ended up moving before we did much there. I would have liked to transition from using the well to collecting and using rainwater because in that case the fast draining of the aquifers seemed to be the major problem. But as the aquifers dried up, the river relied more and more on those washes, so I always wondered if doing too much to divert or slow them down wouldn't make the problem worse. What do others think about this?

I also second what others have said about cattle. The local rancher calls our property (among others) his "back pasture." The cows didn't bother us too much at first, but the more water stays here, the more green things grow here, the harder it is to keep the cattle out. That would be fine -- we like their manure, too, in fact my partner uses some in his pottery firing -- but it is difficult and time-consuming to help the land recover from their presence. They're heavy, always follow the same paths, over and over for generations, and they eat many of the same things as this land's other residents (rabbits, javelinas, us, etc.). If you look at satellite or aerial images of our area, the cattle paths are striking. It takes years for plant and animal density and diversity to recover even somewhat from just a few months of cattle residence. We've been slowly accumulating fence materials as we can find them and afford them, and now we're trying to accumulate the time to put up the fence. That's just for the few contiguous acres we live on. It becomes more important as we grow more food plants here (which are already fenced in, but with T-posts and chickenwire, which heavy cows wouldn't find to be too much of a barrier if they really wanted what's on the other side).

Others have mentioned organic material getting caught in fences. This also happens in floodwaters. Any place the water slows down and gathers and sinks in will collect that. Gary Paul Nabhan wrote in one of his earlier books -- I think it's The Desert Smells Like Rain -- that Tohono O'odham traditional farmers anticipate this with their floodwater farming and place mini brush dams to collect it at the tops of their fields as fertilizer. (There's a great word for it that I can't remember right now.) That's a great book, highly recommended.

Is the BLM land densely forested or more like grassland savannah? And do I understand right that cattle graze there as well? One thing we've been learning down here is that changing climate and cattle grazing have been transforming high desert grassland savannah into a lot of bare ground with a higher predominance of mesquite. Many ranchers try to grub out the mesquite or poison them all with herbicides, even though often all the cattle have to browse on through the spring and dry summer is mesquite. Ranchers and others try various things to turn this back into grassland, but mostly they don't work, mostly because they start with trying to kill the mesquite. Mesquite and other trees can anchor all sorts of other vegetation, including grasses. As Joseph mentioned, pruning them at ground level can be a good thing (and give you good material for your brush dams, mulch, etc.). We use them as nurse trees to get other things growing.
 
Beth Wilder
pollinator
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I found the reference I was looking for in The Desert Smells Like Rain (pp. 126-127 of the original 1982 edition)!

"Yet far more interesting than manure is the use of other local materials: flood and firewood detritus, ash, crop wastes, and the litter beneath leguminous desert trees. The humus developed in association with tree legumes is a remarkable choice for soil amendments. Mesquite and ironwood are key in the nutrient balance of desert washes, since they may both pump and fix nitrogen that can then become available to aid in the growth of other plants. Papago families still seek out places where moist, rich litter has accumulated under these woody legumes, sensing what scientists have only recently confirmed. They then dig up the top two or three feet of organic matter around the trees, and take it back to their plants to enrich them.

"The most important soil amendment for Papago fields is not something the People themselves carry into the fields -- they merely encourage floods to haul it in. By properly locating their fields 'at the mouths of washes,' and by constructing low, water-spreading fences of woven brush, they help floodwater to dump its load of debris within the fields. Drifts of the material, called wako'ola, are left behind the water-spreaders after the flood has moved on.

"Rummaging through a foot-high drift of wako'ola that had been deposited on a field near Topowa, I was surprised at the organic richness of its contents: rodent dung, mesquite leaves, mulch developed under trees, and water-smoothed twigs. The farmers at Topowa take this flotsam, spread it, and plow it into their soil. Enough of this humus comes into their fields to add an inch of organic matter to the cultivated surface each growing season, reducing soil alkalinity and increasing moisture holding capacity."



I love this so much. We've essentially done this for our two gardens. Where the channels we've dug enter the gardens through the chickenwire fences, this wako'ola accumulates, and what doesn't eventually get carried into the gardens by the floodwaters, I collect and spread. We don't till, but we put the organic matter down in the sunken rows underneath mulch that's slower to break down (from the woodpile area) and let the rains carry its goodness into the soil underneath.

Also, one more book recommendation: Lisa Rayner's Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens, 4th Edition (2013). It's got so much wonderful information in it I don't even know where to tell you to begin.
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6/29/18 as monsoons started: wako'ola at the fence
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7/27/19 monsoon rain approaching the hills of the delicious prickly pears
 
kevin stewart
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I would suggest saving your back and just buy a ten foot kiddie pool (with metal frame) for your water catchment.
About $85 .not sure what you can do with bilboard tarp.
You will be dissapointed if you buy the eight footer with the inflatable ring.

I pay a lot of attention to the condition of the land around me, what caused these conditions?

It's monsoon season, the ground is soft and t-posts are easy to pound. Once again i will be pricked, nicked, and cut by barbed wire.
Maybe I'm doing it wrong...
 
pollinator
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Location: Missoula, MT
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Just fencing out grazers does wonders.

Like with deer, you may never notice how much greenery they eat until after you've fenced them out. At my place, half the land is fenced off; within the fenced half the grasses are nearly over your head in some places, in the not-fenced half the grass is only like 2 feet tall, and that's only over the course of one season. And I don't even have very much deer pressure.

"To fence off for one year is better than to plant for ten years." - not sure who said this

+1 on the Siberian elm, those things are tough.
 
kevin stewart
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I have about 16 acres fenced off and have fence posts in place for another 10 (+ -)

Siberian elm and friends growing in the cockpit of my boat in LA.
I'm using nonwoven bags. I doubt any of these trees will be ready by winter to go into the ground.
It's a bummer. In september i have to find room for 96 arizona cypress.

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Chad Zavala
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Chris Ferguson wrote:Springs Preserve had tons of success with trees and plants from Australia but I'm kind of leery of imports and prefer to go native.
C



Chris, thank you for your replies. This is very valuable help. I appreciate it.
 
Chad Zavala
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Daniel Kaplan wrote:

Plant species. I'd look into yucca, cactus, russian olive, siberian peashrub, mesquite, alfalfa, and pinyon pine. Junipers (western red cedar) are probably hardy but probably don't have enough redeeming characteristics to make them worth planting.

Have fun! I'm somewhat jealous of your project and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
Daniel



Daniel, so much great information here. Thank you for all the time you spent writing this!
 
I don't get it. A whale wearing overalls? How does that even work? It's like a tiny ad wearing overalls.
how do we get more backing of the brk?
https://permies.com/t/145583/backing-brk
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