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Desert Tree Establishment

 
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I guess this will be my thread for my Desert Tree project.....

THE LAND:
Site#1 - Sonoran Desert, USA.
- is around 33N latitude.  
- about 1100' above sea level.
- around 9" of rain per year, most of which hits in the late summer.
- hot, highs are 105-115 F + in the summer.
- lows in winter are 30 to 50 degrees.  Freezing is very rare.
- property is almost perfectly flat, there is slope, but almost imperceptible.
- water table used to shallower in the 1950's, maybe 70-120' (lolz at "shallow").  Now its 500-600'+ due to over pumping.
- the property is in a small flood plane or sorts, but it takes LARGE storm events to flood (a few inches).
- soil is primarily a silty clay.  The top 3" stays soft, below that, its dry and hard.
- little vegetation, there a few scattered mesquites, some kind of small sage bushes/salt brush things.
- (actually, they are complete dried out "sticks" now, but I believe there are Wolfberry plants here.  Some are still alive)

Its some piss-poor property a got duped into buying when we were having a real estate boom pre-2008-ecomonic-distaster.

THE METHOD:
I'm going to use a type circular depression to for a rain catchment to establish some trees.
I have access to some drilling equipment I modified....
....I actually came up with this idea decades ago, but never got around to implementing it.
Our equipment makes different type of circular dirt mounds, or volcano shaped piles, depending on what we are doing.

Here was the 1st experiment in our equipment yard.



After we shaped the ground, we set up a simple yard sprinkler.
The conical shape of the ground initiates sheet flow toward the center of course....it doesn't take much water sprinkling down to get things moving.
The other 'idea' is the reamer arm leave a small berm around the edge of the depression.
In the case of a MAJOR storm event, I don't want the entire sheetflow for several of the surrounding acres to wash out the system.
I think there would be too much erosion and silt deposition rendering it in effective....also worried all waterlogging the plantings for several days.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CB5rljLJiEH/

So we dug in (10) of the Water-Lenz®© and we tried to plant in some Moringa Trees using the Groasis Waterboxx to nurse the saplings.
The thinking was there they are super fast growers, and drought tolerant.
Problem was gophers ate them.  Twice!
We evolved 3 generations of protective wire baskets and covers to keep them away...
They actually started off quite well and grew quite a bit.   Its a shame because one of the same set of saplings I planted my backyard grew to 9' tall with almost no water.
(had to top it already).

So after designing up a subterranean basket system, with a wire protective (above surface) cover, I decided to just try native mesquites.
They have been in for 2-3 weeks and appear to have not-died.

I may try the Moringas again.   As I think the current wire basket design is working.
Not only do the gophers want to eat the plantings, the earth around the Waterboxx is cool and moist !
They want to move in !  
The moringa was long since gone, but the gopher was really enjoying its new micro-climate here:
https://www.instagram.com/p/CD1wWgnJrFK/
They also chew down the wick on the Waterboxx ....sucking the water out!

Actually, if I can keep the gophers outside of the (new) basket system,
their holes and burrows will be an advantage once it rains and ponds.
Rainwater will obviously flood the burrows and will be "planted" down deep in the subsurface.
The burrows probably have feces, organic debris, etc in them.
(I'd rather not kill off the gophers, with traps)


I only planted 5 locations to start.
I'm glad i did NOT 40-50 ..... I would have had a massacre.
The slow proto-typing is working out in the end.

I think I will also try Mexican Palo Verde (parkinsonia aculeata)....just from a biomass accumulator standpoint.
Out of all the native/quasi-native palo verdes here, the M.P.V. is the one the drops its pine-needle-like stems.
The other just shed the small leaf-lets.   The stems tend to accumulate around the base providing a "mulch" and biomass.....they don't blow away so easliy.
The other aspect of the WaterLenz®©TM .... is it should just start collecting and trap any plant-debris blowing around.

I may try to plant the  M.P.V. along with a Wolfberry as a symbiotic partner plant .... someone or something could eat the berries obvs.
MPV would be the legume, the Wolfberry the 'crop'.   Also, I think the Wolfberry would trap a lot of the MPV's leaf litter as well.

The bad thing about this whole deal....is since breaking ground with the rain catchments, I've cursed myself and there has been no rain.
Sure using the Waterboxxes just to establish things, but I'd like to see the Lenzs fill up at least once!
Its like the reverse-effect of washing your car and having it rain the next day.


THE PURPOSE:

To be honest, I have no idea.  
I just know it will work....but to what degree?

I think I could make a hand version, that could be assembled in the field, and either turned by hand, or pulled around a pivot-center (with a bearing) by a mule or something.
You'd pound a huge center stake and turn a cutting arm around the pivot.
That machine you see is hardly using much power to do it.
Maybe for 3rd world countries or something.....the establish trees or orchards in drylands.
Sure, people could do it with shovels, pick ax, rake, etc ....but the more perfect that cone shape is, the less rain it takes to make it sheet flow.
....eyeballing it you are going to get irregularities.

It's really only beneficial in 'dig-able' clay soils that are flat .... but I see a lot of those where I'm at.
Any kind of slope, either swales or boomerangs or Zia-type pits are best .... sure I get that.

Maybe habit restoration? (wildlife, other)

Or obvs desert afforestation.
With a machine, I could put a crap ton of these in very quickly.
With very hardy desert trees, I don't know if we would even need the Waterboxx device.

In clay soils I do not believe the ground would erode too quickly to alter the rain-catchment features.
Maybe in area with livestock they'd get trampled out to a degree.   IDK.
After many decades sure.   But by then the landscape and topsoil would have significant organic matter added to it .... aiding water infiltration.
 
Mikhail Mulbasicov
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11-3-2020
Checked on things,  all of the mesquites are still there.  Some show growth.
Gophers appeared repelled.
One Lenz has two new/fresh gopher holes around the protective screens.
Waterboxx levels have maybe dropped a 1/4" (or less) over the last 2 weeks.
 
Mikhail Mulbasicov
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11-9-2020

lolz ...not even worth posting really, but the irony here ....

I had a couple of moringa seedlings left over, since the new gopher cages-and-ground-baskets seem to be working....I decided to go out and just try two more.
Saturday I hogged out the center holes, and did presoak.  (this was during a dust storm by the way) .... let drain down.
Sunday I backfilled, mixed in some compost, and presoaked that material ....left site to let it drain down/stabilize.

I go out today with the intent to plant and install the waterboxxes.  
Nope, it rained earlier in the morning, too muddy in the holes !!!  yea!

The irony part is that I dropped my cell phone earlier this morning and the screen broke; couldn't film anything.
First damn time its rained since March ! (well, more than just one day when 'Trace' was recorded at the local airport).
Today, it probably only rained a tenth of of an inch....but I think that all came in a short burst.
(NOTE: I should leave an impromptu rain gauge out there)

One or two of the (unused yet) Water-Lenz had teeny-tiny ponds in centers.
These holes were full of fluff/dust/poof dirt prior to this.  It's clearly going to work.

Another interesting observation, is most of the lenz surface, say from say radius-point 3' out to the edge, is visibly drier....
....much lighter in color, and absolutely NO mud will stick to your boots as compared to the surrounding flat ground.
The center is obviously wet and muddy; but I thought the contrast with the rest of the site (which is ~0.05% slope) was interesting.

All that said, the two new holes I prepared are way too mushy to set up the box.
So ineffective trip.

I checked the other (5) mesquites/waterboxxes:
A couple of the waterboxxes actually cleared the dust/mud that was building up around the refill ports.
Dirt was just starting building up from the previous dust storm.
They are pretty much full of water now.... (its only been a couple of weeks since first topped off).

I wish I had my phone/camera to document.  Just Damn.

----------------------

The other crappy part about the phone blowing up.   I had some good footage of the dust storm.  
And the next morning I arrived right at dawn, the low sun angle and long ahadows really shows the shape of the WaterLenz.
I lost all that I think ....

-----------------------

11-11-2020  PM

I planted two more moringa trees in the evening.  lolz ran out of daylight; did it under headlights.

Only reason posting this is: after I was done, I went over to the last three Lenz that I have never done anything with.
Previously, the center holes were full of pure ground up completely dry poof-dust-clay-silt.  
Now, prodding around them that night with a shovel, the ground/clay is now wet and heavy with moisture.
I checked the closest weather station that posts their data online ... it was 0.1".
 
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Just a note about gopher deterrents.  In Practical Permaculture by J. Bloom, when discussing plant guilds, daffodils are recommended as a gopher deterrent.  Not sure how that would work with your Lenz but thought I'd mention it.  I also live in AZ; very interested in your trials and hope they are successful!
 
Mikhail Mulbasicov
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Ellen Sanford wrote:Just a note about gopher deterrents.  In Practical Permaculture by J. Bloom, when discussing plant guilds, daffodils are recommended as a gopher deterrent.  Not sure how that would work with your Lenz but thought I'd mention it.  I also live in AZ; very interested in your trials and hope they are successful!



Thanks Ellen

Hmmmmm ... I was thinking about incorporating somekind of tree well/circular berm a distance aways from the tree's trunk .... there I was going to plant native grasses, forbes, etc.  
Maybe I'll mix daffodils in with the seed mix.

 
Mikhail Mulbasicov
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12-10-2020 Thurs.
Well, it finally rained.

That old rusty can I picked up at the beginning of the video was sitting vertically, and is a straight walled cylinder.
It had just shy of a 1/4" inch of rain in it.   Its probably pretty accurate.

Doing some math with a spreadsheet, judging the diameter of those ponds on the interior of the Lenz, and making some of other assumptions  .... I think the run co-efficient is "high" in this scenario.
I was there about an hour or two after the rain quit, I think I can see a high water line up the slope a foot or so.
I know the 0.2"-0.25" is accurate.   That clay surface is pretty hard after the Lenz is cut.   Run-off should be high.

I apologize for my rambling, I'm not a good narrator.
At one point, I actually said, "I want to see how wet that water is".....I meant "soil".  lolz



I believe I could make a reamer-tool to knife-in a mini-swale within each lenz.
The problem is, I don't know if the trench could displace enough soil to the surface to create a high enough of a berm to hold back all that water.
I guess the wider the mini-trench, the more dirt I'd create.
Something like this.



Its scary to think about if the area got blasted with an 1" of rain in an hour, or say a 100 year flood.
Eventually, the system would get wiped out or eroded; by then, hopefully the tree is fully established and the ground-form is still kinda half-a** working.





 
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Location: Oklahoma Panhandle
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Mikhail,

I like the looks of the lenz you built.  They almost have to work!  
I guess I missed it somehow, what is the diameter of the dirt works you've built?  
Posts from people who live in drier country than me intrigue me.
Please keep posting updates.

Bryan
 
Mikhail Mulbasicov
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Bryan Elliott wrote:Mikhail,

I like the looks of the lenz you built.  They almost have to work!  
I guess I missed it somehow, what is the diameter of the dirt works you've built?  
Posts from people who live in drier country than me intrigue me.
Please keep posting updates.

Bryan



The cone is 22' ft (6.7 m) in diameter.
A pilot hole in the center is drilled 2' in diameter, only to really provide a socket for the drill tool to sit in.
So the center gets a disturbed area 2' dia (600mm) x maybe 18" (450mm) deep.
I added some compost/bio char to that inner hole when the saplings were planted.

I did what Groasis recommends for dry desert soils ....
- dig out hole
- presoak hole once (10-15 gals or so); let soak in over night
- backfill hole (with soils 'amendments' if you think you need)
- presoak backfill once more
- plant tree, install WaterBoxx

-------------------------------------------------------------

The simple cone shape was the easiest quickest thing to manufacture in my shop, but I'm thinking for long term, that design might be suboptimal.
Only the center of cone will get heavily charged with water.   (mesquites and a lot of our desert tree can/will grow directly in flooded areas).
But I'm afraid the tree's root system won't be encouraged to spread out....
Also, the upper slope of the cone (say from radius of 5' to to the rim at 11' radius) will stay very very dry, as water will now ALWAYS immediate run off from this area.

I need to made another cutting tool for a duplex cone design.
I want to get some water to the center, so the new sapling is guaranteed water to survive and get established ....
....but then a tree ring/berm/trench/something at around 5' radius for water to soak in a distance from the tree.
This makes the tooling a lot more complicated, and slows down installation/construction of each unit.
Sure, I could hand dig something later on....but that's not the point.

I'm trying to come up with a simple and super fast method to put these shapes onto the ground for mass production ....
...if it can't be done quickly, its not worth dragging the machine out there cost wise.
 
Bryan Elliott
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Just my opinion, but I like what you are doing now charging the center cone.  I think it would work better in my area.  Where I live the most important part of establishing the small trees is the first few years.  You know your soil types and rainfall patterns and I don't so I will sure trust your judgement on YOUR design!  Good idea!
 
Ellen Sanford
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I love this as an earthworks option for deserts.  Obviously you've successfully moved a small amount of water over the larger area to the center point where the plants are located. I wonder what would happen if you simply flattened the central circumferance to the diameter needed for a group of guild plants and then walked away.  Whatever plant you choose for the ground cover would keep the ground shaded as it grew and that would allow the pool of water to soak into the soil more slowly vs. burning off in the heat.  Primarily during the cooler time of year.  I'm just a beginner in permaculture but this is something I haven't see in any other permaculture literature or videos.
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