I am a total noob, and I should really do more research before I dive into things (but I will balance that out by hiring an actual permaculturist for design and implementation and teaching me, so it should be all good). Anyways...
I want to buy land for permaculture (obviously), but all I can really afford is desert land (i'm in Australia btw, so even the lush areas area bordering desert territory lol). So I want to know if it is even worth me buying this piece of land before I do so, I need some rough ideas on whether a permaculturist (who I think has done some of Geoff Lawtons courses) could actually establish a food forest on this site, or if even they would struggle with it then all hope is surely lost and I would certainly drop the idea of buying it.
I don't have any soil samples or anything (which I know is super important lol), but these pictures and statistics is all I have right now to give an idea of what this land is.
The average rainfall over the last 10 years was 9.5''
But the average rainfall over the last 5 years is only 7.5''
The hottest day on record was in January which was 117 degrees F
The coldest day in the last 5 years was 29 degrees which was in 2018
in 2017 it had 65 consecutive days of no rain
I think the most important question is water. Will you be able to drill a well or get some other source of water? 9 inches per year is not really enough to grow much, even with mulch and earthworks, etc.
Personally I don't think soil testing is as important as water. If you have water and are able to bring in organic matter initially, most soils can be made nice, after a couple of years, you can produce your own organic matter. But only if there's enough water to keep things growing.
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I know water is very important, but I thought that the greening the desert project location only receives like 1'' of water per year? The area this land is in is currently in a 5 year drought or something like that (its located north of the Goyders line) But I thought that if something similar was done as the green the desert project then the tiny rainfall would not be such an issue (I understand that water needs to be trucked in for an initial establishment period)
In my opinion, that land would be severely challenging even for an experienced permaculturalist. Speaking from my own experience, not only would I want a water source (think an acre or more rain catchment field, or a reliable well), I'd also want to be able to have access to bringing in truckloads of organic material to use for building soil health. That land looks rather devoid of robustly growing vegetation. And on top of this, I wouldn't expect to have good results for years. The first few years would be development with little return for your effort. I'd have to be passionate about this project and stubborn enough not to give up in the face of adversity.
I'm in my 70s, so I would pass it up because I wouldn't have enough years left to make that land permaculturally healthy. I suspect t it will be a long term project.
I've never tried a challenge like this one. But only a few miles from me is a subdivision located in rocky desert. I've seen lots of people buy land there, put a year or two into it, and then give up disillusioned. There's always someone else willing to buy the land from them.....cheap that is.....and give it a try for a year or two before giving up too. It's a endless cycle. Only a few buyers manage to make a go of it, and even they mostly have limited success.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
In my humble opinion one can't have a food forest with just 1inch of water. Even Mr Geoff has pipes that water the permaculture food forest system in greening the desert.
Given that your site gets around 10inches of water, if you could capture the rain from 4 area unit and funnel it to just 1 unit to grow on then you could have up to 5x effective rainfall. And that is exactly what the creekbed is doing. THus why you see trees lining it's side.
Now lets say that you could have fruit trees on both side for a total of 2 rows of trees.
If you the creek was 600ft/200m long and each tree had a spacing of 15ft/5m you could have 40 trees per row.
So with two row you have 80 plants and with four rows (2 on both sides) you could have 160 plants.
I would install alot of check dams in the creek.
To echo what others have said you will have to focus on water source and earthworks to help the water.
Followed by mulch to cut down evaporation
And then fungi/soil life to efficiently get dissolved minerals with fungi root vs tree root.
And then tree species/cultivar selection.
I would actually plant seeds and then graft it after it survives a few years.
I think the place looks really nice. I lived in a desert area as a child, and miss it.
If you could think longterm, you could maybe grow medjool dates, fetches high prices, and there is a high demand for it.
Maybe you do not need to really plant a whole food forest, think a bit outside the box. You could sell specialty products or "superfoods" grown in desert areas. Mesquite for instance is popular among raw foodists.
Dired powdered nopale cactus powder is now being sold to rawfoodist or health conscious people. Jujube is another tree producing an abundance of tasty fruits growing in dry areas.
And there is a whole range of medecinal herbs, for teas for instance, that are become increasingly popular.
Keeping bees, could also be an option.
And maybe a few goats.
Be aware (BEWARE!) that creek areas in deserts may flood catastrophically every few years. We bought a place with a dry creek and it has been an ongoing challenge because of severe flooding. And we aren't even in true desert, merely semi-arid land.
I would suggest checking into local sources available.
We are very happy with our property. We have been here since 2013.
The two things that we forgot to check before buying our property were available services and flooding.
By available services, I am referring to backhoe operators, carpenters, lumber suppliers, etc. Having lived in a big city, to me driving 30 miles to earn money was nothing. Here, they will not give estimates if they have to drive 30 miles. The backhoe operator would not come out unless he had another job here on the same day.
Take Tyler's advice about flooding. We found out the hard way when we could not get to the property and had to find somewhere to spend the night.
If hiring a permaculturist is important, I would suggest checking to see if they are in the area and will give you an estimate without charging you.
Best wishes for your future purchase.
Invasive plants are Earth's way of insisting we notice her medicines. Stephen Herrod Buhner
Everyone learns what works by learning what doesn't work. Stephen Herrod Buhner
I recall having a discussion with a farmer inland from Adelaide, we were comparing our farming styles/systems. He mentioned he farms in a 10"rainfall area, and when it rains, he usually gets 15-18"at a time. Made me think for a while, then realise how well off we are even in dry parts of NZ!
You can get a functional permaculture ecosystem in any site anywhere in the world, subject to location. In other words yes you can do it, but don't expect it to look like a permaculture system in Cairns, or Hobart, Or Perth. My only farming experience in Australia was in coastal NE NSW, even with the 80"rainfall moisture stress could be extreme with the high evapotranspiration rates... of course bananas are not a crop you will be looking at. Your site will be challenging, all depends on what you actually want to achieve.
I'm in a similar boat - sorely tempted by the cheap land (West Texas in my case at around $1K USD per acre; around 11 inches of annual rainfall) and inspired by the Greening the Desert videos I've seen.
From what I've learned, the way I would approach this is to think in phases instead of trying to rehabilitate the entire property at once. My Phase 1 would start with Zones 0 and 1, which would probably be up to a half-acre in size.
The first focus would be to set up systems for water catchment and irrigation earthworks + drip systems. I'd set my highest priority to capture and recycle every ounce of water falling on or consumed by all life in those zones - rainwater, greywater, all of it. I'd also want to put up windbreaks using desert plants - mesquite, creosote bush, yuccas, agaves, and prickly pear - on the windward sides of these zones to help counteract some of the evaporation effects.
Then I think I'd have to focus on increasing fertility directly in my growing beds - maybe in raised/container beds or the sunken beds similar to Lawson's at the Dead Sea project. Realistically, the first year or two I'd probably have to pay to ship in offsite resources - water and mulch material at least, maybe manure as well - to kick-start fertility. I'd get some rabbits and chickens going as well for their manure production as much as their food value.
If I do anything in Zone 2 during Phase 1, it would be focused on putting in the earthworks needed and defining a drought-tolerant cover crop polyculture planted directly in the swales and along keylines. I'd probably let that run for at least a couple of years to build up some fertility before starting the food forest crops there. My approach to Zones 2 and beyond would be heavily influenced by Mark Shepard's ideas about restoration agriculture.
This is all a pipe dream for me right now, but it has definitely captured my imagination. Glad to see I'm not the only one crazy enough to even think about trying this.
Good luck! I hope to hear updates on what you're accomplishing!
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