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Just dig it rainfall moisture retention

 
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This is a simple solution for many
justdiggit
Essentially it is a program to dig holes in the esert and capture rainfall so it does not run off, but reaches the subsoil
 
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John C Daley wrote:This is a simple solution for many
justdiggit
Essentially it is a program to dig holes in the esert and capture rainfall so it does not run off, but reaches the subsoil



Thanks for sharing, much simpler and lower tech than keyline. Great results.
 
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Thanks for posting this, John! Our slow internet connection has trouble with the website. It looks like one of their primary approaches is very similar to zai pits, only they're heaping the dirt from the little pit up on one side as a berm and calling it a bund. Does that seem right to those who've been able to get greater access to the site? Are there other techniques shown that I'm just not able to see?

I've wondered if others have tried building/accumulating essentially drylands brush dams (intended to accumulate drifting organic material rather than -- or in addition to -- slowing down water). We had a big thorny mesquite branch that we'd trimmed to make room for our garden fence, and I dragged it over between two acacias to form a partial barrier around an area I want to seed with wildflowers for the pollinators, to help keep cows out of there and let it get established without erecting another "dead fence" (of T-posts and barbed wire or chickenwire or whatever combination). Green things have started to accumulate around that thorny branch, and it gave my partner the idea of using thorny mesquite and acacia deadwood to start "fencing" some more remote land we have in some arid foothills (predominantly creosote, acacia, ocotillo, agave, sotol, etc. -- whereas our home property is more like high desert mesquite grassland savanna), basically let nature start building us a living fence. We'd add cacti and ocotillo and wolfberry and other things to it as we're able, over time, whenever we go up there.

We've already started bringing seeds of native plants like wild tepary beans, desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), etc. we've collected whenever we go up to that land, and leaving them behind in likely-seeming places. (There are dry arroyos throughout the property that create lots of different microclimates.) That part seems much like Kostas' excellent regreening work in Greece, only on a much smaller scale in our case. Since we've successfully used small-scale earthworks (sunken beds and rows, floodwater diversion ditches, swales and berms, etc.) to good effect on the land around our home, it would make great sense to seed in zai pits or bunds as part of that long-term effort. Maybe the thorny brush dam "fencing" should also incorporate a shallow depression that would help hold the brush and accumulating organic matter and seeds, etc. until living growth starts to lock it into place as well as retain moisture to help those things grow?

What do you all think?
 
pollinator
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I’m curious Beth, is your soil more clay or sand? I’m very close to you and my soil is sandy.

Speaking of natives, I’m currently stratifying some AZ Walnuts I got out of the Stronghold.
 
Beth Wilder
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Yeah, Wayne, we've definitely got both around here. Our gardens are in a sandy area because the beans really like that, but we're adding a lot of organic matter and the moisture doesn't drain away fast at all with heavy mulch in deep sunken beds/rows. We're digging a little pond to temporarily hold water to feed young trees (slowly, long-term, but should do a lot more this winter) not far from there in a very clay-heavy area. So it definitely depends.

I'm stratifying some AZ black walnuts, too! Got 'em just along one of the roads closer to town, same trees from which I collected green walnuts to make nocino over the summer. Are you doing it outside in pots? I've got some hackberry (from a nearby livestock tank) and locust (from Bisbee) and Italian stone pine (ordered, at the recommendation of a tree-man in your neighborhood) in the same set-up along with a bunch of more common fruit seeds, although I couldn't really find out the what the stone pine seeds need for sure. Same with desert willow (Chilopsis), so I've got some seeds in potting soil right now and held back a lot more to start in the spring.

Have you come across any true willows (I keep reading we have Goodings Black in the region) anywhere to try propagating?
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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I haven’t seen any Willows. The Walnuts are in a fridge with vermiculite.

I was wondering about your soil because my land drains quick and don’t have ANY runoff to divert or capture. My guess is Turkey creek has flooded out my area in the distant past.

 
Beth Wilder
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Yeah, Wayne, I think all the folks I know in your area are quite reliant on well water, for however long that may last with the big superwells pumping so heavily in the area. Even your road and driveway don't run with water when it rains heavily? It often seems like folks in your area get more rain than we do, but maybe we all feel that way (i.e., everyone gets more rain than we do).

How close are you to the creek? If there were true willows anywhere, I'd expect them to be in that riparian area. I haven't seen any yet, though, around either creek. Still looking.

We have areas near us that about this time last year seemed like moonscapes, completely denuded, with marks across them to show where the water just floods across without stopping, probably taking any remaining good soil and organic matter with it. But now there are islands of vegetation and organic matter accumulation, despite the cattle being really heavy around here this year. (In fact, I suspect the cattle both harm and help, since vegetation often starts in their dead-straight tracks across these areas, fertilized by their "leavings," then widens out occasionally into larger clumps of short plants more capable of catching larger seeds and such.) We didn't do anything to encourage this particular glimmering of revegetation, but I think we will start to go everywhere with a shovel and just dig little zai pits and/or bunds everywhere we go.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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I plant all over without earthworks. I work on 2 separate 90 acre properties in the Dragoons as well as my own property and I can tell you the #1 mistake/issue I run into is people modifying the hydrology. Monsoon rains are often underestimated in power and volume.

I have adapted many trees and plants with only a few gallons of water per month.
Another big mistake I see out here is overwatering. I’ve found less water, less leaching, and not adding salts via groundwater pays huge dividends. Most of what is parroted when it comes to desert Permaculture has been a complete loser for me.

Edit: Turkey creek runs across the back of my land and snakes through 2 different locations. I also have part of a large basin that was dug by the utility company to hold water in case the creek gets clogged.

Turkey-Creek.jpeg
Turkey Creek
Turkey Creek
 
Beth Wilder
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Are you including the little earthworks we're discussing in this thread when you say modifying the hydrology, Wayne? Definitely people often underestimate our monsoons. I posted over in this thread about large-scale swale examples in Arizona about some examples of modifying the hydrology via earthworks that seem to be working quite well, at least according to the author of the book I cite, ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan. The two examples are in the Chiricahuas and in the Canelo Hills. I do think that being in flatter valley land changes things. What sorts of results are you seeing come from the mistakes you've observed?

When folks don't have any well water at all to use -- even a few gallons of water per month to get trees started or adapt them, as you say -- what do (or would) you recommend?
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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I’m not qualified to give advice lol. I can only comment on my mistakes and what I’ve witnessed at work.

Soil depth is huge. Many people are on rock/gravel and don’t know it. This is common around our mountains. A close friend just bought a beautiful property in the Dragoon foothills and has run into this. Lucky for him, he knows hydrology and studied under Sepp Holzer. Obviously you don’t want to dig out the soil that stores, protects, and builds moisture and nutrient. I’m amazed how many swales I see that do nothing but moisturize the atmosphere.

I work around hundreds of ancient Oaks. I gather the soil from around them and use that to inoculate everything. It seems to have helped and the mushrooms have exploded. Even with this extremely dry summer, the mushrooms continue.

Oh yeah, don’t use the Sunset Western Garden Book lol. That book screwed me all up in the beginning.

What are you growing?
 
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So I went through the Justdigit website and I'm amazed if anyone with a slow internet connection can look at that.  They have so much going on interactively on that website.  I couldn't post their temperature monitor, that's worth looking at; it shows a photo demonstrating temperature differences in, on and around the bunds they use.

Bund/zai pits things at a distance:



Here is a timelaspe showing the semi-circular bund/zai pits in action:



Here is a video showing what I think they say is 80,000 bund/zai pits in action, again, timelaspe:



And here is an image of the grassland restoration they are doing - but they don't say how they did it, not that I found at least:



That last picture reminds me of a video with Geoff Lawton, where he does a short interview of an Arizona farmer.  This farmer takes land that looked similar to the land on the left side of the photo above, and he turned it into grassland in an unusual way.  (I have tried to find this video again - if anyone know what I'm talking about, please post it!)

The farmer modified one of his pieces of equipment for his tractor.  He took a big metal roller (like a tractor driven rolling pin) and he put little triangular pieces of metal on the roller, all evenly spaced.  When run over the ground, it compressed it -which sounds counter-intuitive, but I've found actually helps plant germination - but it specifically made these little triangular indents into the soil.  Put your fingers together in a triangle shape, that's near, or maybe larger than the size I'm talking about.  

The triangles were more deeply indented at one end - so basically he was making tiny zai pit/bunds like in the pictures and video above.  Then he sprinkled some grass seed about, and let nature do it's thing.  The grass seed blew into the little triangle indents, as did rabbit pellets, and then the rains came and pooled in those little spots.  That section of land transformed into a pasture.  So it was like a micro version of the bund method above and it allowed grass to grow where it wasn't doing so on it's own.  

I found it very interesting that it took so little effort.  The land just needed a little help.  Imagine what swales would do there!  My husband and I want to attempt the same thing on a piece of our land, but don't have the equipment.  I'm going to try using a gravel tamper, held on angle slightly so the corner indents, and see if that works.  A test plot.

The biggest problem I can see with this method is harvester ants, as sprinkled seeds can get eaten up at a rate of over 90% sometimes, according to people with lots of these ants present.

Whoever finds this video for me, I will be so grateful!  Explaining this is way too complex!  I just want to show it.  :-)
 
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Wayne Mackenzie
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Yikes. I’m glad my soil isn’t dead like that.
green-in-arizona.jpeg
green in arizona
green in arizona
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Lots of moisture the last couple of days and the creek is running 🙂
seasonal-creek.jpeg
seasonal creek
seasonal creek
 
pollinator
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Wayne Mackenzie wrote:I’m not qualified to give advice lol. I can only comment on my mistakes and what I’ve witnessed at work.

Soil depth is huge. Many people are on rock/gravel and don’t know it.



Tell me about it.  my soil depth on the majority of my land is caliche rock and been trying to figure out where to start with planting trees and if they will do well.  Though pretty much I plan on just adding more trees around the existing Mesquite trees through out my land and creating some dugout basins to help soak in more water and hopefully over time break down the caliche layers and be more adaptable.  Just holding back water on my caliche land has allow more grasses in my yard close to home to become much more prominent and helping to create soil much faster.
a-distant-shot-towards-my-home-showing-the-outcrops-of-caliche..jpg
a distant shot towards my home showing the outcrops of caliche.
a distant shot towards my home showing the outcrops of caliche.
a-small-testament-on-the-effects-of-even-a-small-swale.-2nd-year.jpg
a small testament on the effects of even a small swale. 2nd year
a small testament on the effects of even a small swale. 2nd year
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Muriatic acid & jackhammers are the tools for caliche if it’s not too thick.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That's a lot of acid!  Seems expensive.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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The SW is tough.
Water is salty, rain is scarce, time is expensive, & life is short. I personally wouldn’t attempt a large project on thick caliche after dealing with it in Phoenix. It just takes too much water to constantly push out the salts.



 
Beth Wilder
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Your land looks beautiful, James. I know we all can't choose every aspect of where we end up, and as Bill Coperthwaite says, "If one disagrees with the nomadism and violence of our society, then one is under an obligation to take up some permanent dwelling place and cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness in it" (A Handmade Life, p. xix; and Gary Paul Nabhan talks about how species loss slows where humans are settled more long-term in Cultures of Habitat). Since our place is also not ideal (and what place doesn't have its challenges?), we try to practice adaptability, experimentation, and trial-and-error. We find small scale potential solutions to be essential to this approach. It seems to me you're working in the same way.

I think your building swales where you can and observing the results, planting new trees around your nurse mesquites, etc. sounds just right. It's very similar to things we've done. Luckily we haven't observed caliche on our land (although I think there may be some at our other property -- we need to do more observation there), but that and things like a thin layer of topsoil, lots of gravel, etc. seem to me like challenges that remind us to observe nature's preexisting potential solutions to these things. What's already growing (well? poorly?)? What grows when it gets a little water, as you note? What have previous inhabitants eaten and used from this land?

Granted, we may need to acknowledge that some places just can't support human habitation, or not by many people and not for very long. Phoenix may well be an example of that, but I believe I'm quite biased against Phoenix. ;)

Wayne notes salty water. One great solution to that issue is to not pump and drain groundwater! Collecting rainwater, passively and actively, especially for plantings, works very well even in arid areas like ours where rain is scarce. It always surprises me how well the desert provides, even during drought. Our area (ours and Wayne's) is certainly in the midst of a nice little spot of moisture! Whatever we can collect and store now will bring us through dry spots ahead. I hope it helps refill our aquifers so the creeks run more often in the coming year.

Imprinting/zai pits/bunds/dugout basins to soak in water and let time help you out sounds like a smart and easy-enough start to me. Any organic matter you end up with, tuck that stuff in wherever you can.

Kim, if you or anyone else comes across that video of Geoff Lawton interviewing an Arizona farmer, please post it! That sounds potentially very helpful, although of course we'd do it without a tractor. We've been considering buying some native grass seed from a place like Native Seeds/SEARCH, but in the last season we've observed native grasses seeding themselves in larger areas around us as we slow down the water movement and increase organic matter content (and yes, there are lots of rabbit pellets around here, too! ha ha), much like James notes, so I think we'll keep observing for a bit.

As you say, Kim, ants take away a lot of seed here when we introduce it. What I can't quite figure out yet is why they don't seem to do the same (or to the same degree) when nature reseeds itself wildly, so for now, that's one of the things we're observing. (I've been trying to minimize disturbed soil when I seed and cover it up with mulch from surrounding plants to decrease the clues present for ants, rodents, etc. It can be hard to tell just how well it's working -- or not -- especially since seeds often take so long to achieve all the conditions they need to sprout around here.)

You're so lucky to work with old oaks, Wayne! I'm jealous. With the one Emory oak we've transplanted so far, we inoculated like you describe and are hoping it helps. We've also observed mushrooms in our mulch throughout our plantings all summer despite the late monsoon start, etc.

Let's see, what are we growing? We have a bunch of beds of different kinds of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia; we eat pads and fruit), mostly clustered near mesquites (we eat pods and use wood and leaf litter). We encourage preexisting and have also transplanted in Yucca (we eat blossoms if elata or schottii, and fruit if bacata or schottii). We encourage and sometimes plant cuttings of cholla (Opuntia; we eat buds and fruit). We've started collecting and seeding desert willow (Chilopsis; we use leaves and flowers in tea). We've transplanted that one Emory oak and intend to seed more next summer -- we haven't gotten the timing right yet (we eat acorns). We encourage, transplant, and seed wolfberries/goji/Lyceum and hackberry (we eat berries, as do lots of birds, and all kinds of pollinators love these tiny flowers). We collect and eat Amaranth leaves and seeds (don't need to do anything to encourage that, ha ha). We've transplanted Mexican elder, mulberry, jujube, chiltepines, sometimes tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, and a selection of traditional (mostly Mediterranean, some Mexican) herbs. We seed LOTS of tepary beans, cowpeas, one variety of common bean, lots of mixed squash, lots of mustards and arugula, 60-day corn in some years (not this last season, monsoon too late), tomatillos and ground cherries, cucumbers, watermelons (great before, but not this year), ... Lots more I'm currently forgetting, but those are the major things, at least that we eat and use. It's not that we're averse to planting trees and plants we don't eat or use; it's just that we prioritize those and it helps motivate us (I think Kostas has talked quite a bit about this). We've found that the closer we hew to what we find already growing around us and/or what we know has been grown here or hereabouts by previous inhabitants, and the more we focus on planting around monsoon and winter rains, the better things go.

Oh! We transplanted a grape this last season that is a hybrid of cultivated and wild, after several unsuccessful attempts at rooting cuttings of wild grapes. We'll see how this one does. We diverted a little buried/mulched line of graywater to help it out, so it's not solely reliant on direct rainwater or directed floodwater. A couple of the Italian stone pine seeds I bought online have sprouted inside and I'm going to try to nurse them through to transplant. And I've finally managed to seed a wildflower bed to help extend things for the pollinators we're already attracting.

What is everyone else in this string growing?
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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I’ll make sure to alert everyone when next years acorns are ready. I didn’t realize there was any demand for them.
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