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Ideas for desert permaculture  RSS feed

 
Thomas Hawk
Posts: 11
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I found a piece of land in NW Nevada high desert type I will have about 40 acres or so to play with.

#1 I will only be able to take care of the land in the summer what are hardy trees that I could plant this summer and not have to worry about dying off before the next summer?

#2 Understanding my work schedule is this possible to only work 2 months a year and develop the land? After four years or so I would be able to work year around, but until then.

#3 besides Swaling all the land what are the most important steps to guarantee success. Food production is not important initially it more about recreating the scared landscape.
 
wayne stephen
steward
Posts: 1793
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
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Does Pinion Pine grow there . Hardy and good wildlife food source . Major ingredient in pesto for later. I am sure a variety of sage will grow there. Cottonwoods. I am trying to compare to high desert in Arizona. Desert Sycamores.
 
neil bertrando
Instructor
Posts: 111
Location: Reno, NV
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Looks like you have quite a project ahead of you.

I currently live in Reno, NV. and am fairly familiar with the climate.

what you can do and what to prioritize will depend on what the current state of the land is. some important factors include
-what is the water status: well, creek, spring, ponds, water rights
-what is the soil status: soil type, salt levels, soil depth, etc.
-what is the topography: flat, steep, mixed...
-What are your major climate variables: temperature ranges, precip range, elevation, aspect, etc.


much of the native ecosystem here is rangeland shrub-grassland mosaic. certain areas were forested but clearcut in the 1800s (usually for some step in the mining process)

lots of trees grow here with help, few without...at least during establishment.

pinus monophylla is the native pinyon, pinus edulis also grows here, other pines include ponderosa, jeffrey, scotch, austrian, korean, several juniper species including western, utah, and rocky mountian, mountain mahogany (cercocarpus), black locust, honey locust, siberian pea shrub, russian olive, autumn olive, buffaloberry, green ash, siberian elm, lacebark elm, mulberry (morus alba), service berry, elderberry...there are more if you want to know

for tree supply, a good place to check is Nevada Division of Forestry NDF nursery
also lawyer nursery lawyer nursery

these include some shrubs, and will grow with some help. 2 months a year in the summer could be tough. preferred planting season is from march - June depending on the water year and temperatures and try types

trees will need some form of water to get started...how you do this is up to you: hugelkultur, ponds, swales, keyline, Driwater gels, etc. many places in Northern NV get few if any runoff events unless you have a flash runoff surface such as a boulder outcropping or a road, or if you have a large watershed uphill...so...swales work based on harvesting runoff and require a runoff surface...ponds too. I would do some observation of the land to try and find runoff paths, etc. and selectively plant sites that look promising.

Also, one of Sepp's strategies is to plug the bottom of the watershed which keeps water from leaving...this could be a dam/pond...other options?
for pond regulations, here's the 20/20 rule
nevada division of water resources

There's lots more to cover, this is a start though

 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9696
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I recommend Brad Lancaster's book "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2" http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/
 
neil bertrando
Instructor
Posts: 111
Location: Reno, NV
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I recommend Brad Lancaster's book "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2" http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/


I agree, and many techniques in the book are useful and I have used and am using them here. some caveats...I am careful with gabions and tend more towards One Rock Dams, Media Luna and induced meandering as promoted by Craig Sponholtz and Bill Zeedyk. Check out Let the Water do the Work
Quivira Coalition Book store and Craig's site Dryland Solutions webpage

Craig is doing a class with at Quail Springs this year applied watershed restoration

As with most strategies in Permaculture, application depends on scale and context. With respect to Brad's awesome book, a significant difference between the great basin and the southwest is the timing and type of our precipitation. most of our precip comes as snow in the winter (Oct-May) with very little to none in the warm/hot months. We rarely get 'gully washers' unless there is a flash runoff surface (hardware), a rain on snow event, or a large watershed to feed the run-on surface (software or infiltrating surface). This makes strategies like swales and catchbasins less effective unless they are designed to be connected to these surfaces, which i think they should be in any case, it is just more important to pay attention to this connection here than in some other climates. some examples are roofs, hoophouses (i'm considering building some alley crop systems with hoophouses between 'food forest' swales to set up a run-off run-on system), boulders, mountainsides, roads...some people even build paved or tiled collection surfaces.

I have also struggled with this lack of a run-off surface on one of my keyline projects, where we improved effective rainfall but only for the incident rainfall on each square foot. This is better than nothing but does not generate the spectacular effect of infiltrating runoff from 500 acres on 50. a 10:1 ratio of runoff to run on / growing area is not unusual in arid land permaculture.

before settling on a strategy, I would do some on site observation of the water movement on the land.

There are other strategies...including holistic mob grazing to generate grasslands, that may be more effective in this climate (or at least worth having on the options table).

Now lets look at a slightly different approach: minimize Evaporation
This is the primary arid lands strategy as taught by geoff lawton at my PDC in 2008. in serendipity...sepp holzer said something very similar (not quoted well by me), shelter from the wind and sun, which are the two main evaporative forces. To do this, we can employ many strategies, most if not all of which include adding significant texture to the land.

some examples from Sepp:
for relatively gentle slopes
-high beds which are 10-30 ft tall berms, similar to hugels but with better access on top and often terraced part way up for access. these are set up to deflect the wind sectors and ideally meander serpent form to soften the wind, then planted immediately
-Crater gardens which are pits combined with hugels or high beds and can become ponds...Sepp suggested 10 feet deep and 6-10 feet tall, again consider sun, wind and slope in design
-series of hugels
-Rocks

for steep slopes:
-Terraces: which seem to me to be more of a water harvesting than an anti-evaporation strategy
-Rocks also here, and deep rooted species

To add to this from Geoff:
-Rock walls and berms
-Shade structures made of anything you can find, establish hardy trees whenever possible
-Mulch, mulch, mulch (although on this, I would consider piling it to concentrate organic matter and water, then apply it to selected areas after some humification occurred)
-rock mulch

From Darren and HMI:
-get organic matter into the gut of an animal, nice and moist compost pile even in the hot-dry summer
-continually improve litter layer on soil surface (mulch), a herd of animals mulches 40 acres much more easily than a person with a manure spreader or masticator
-get litter on ground for wet season so that biological decay can occur rather than photo-oxidative decay

and of course all of this costs money to get going, so consider what can give you a return to facilitate the next stage of development. in general work in summer may be tough, critical working seasons for this climate are spring and fall based on the precipitation window and getting vegetation established. For this reason, if you only have summer available to do stuff, I would consider getting a Holistic Management consultant and look at seasonal paddock shift grazing to improve the water cycle and prepare for earthworks, tree planting and other implementations when you can be on site during the critical seasons.

a good, user friendly reference for general rangeland health and site assessment is Bullseye monitoring manual: Bullseye Rangeland Monitoring Manual

take all of this with a grain of salt, and I'm speaking mainly in generalities because I have not seen your particular site.



 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9696
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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neil bertrando wrote: Craig's site Dryland Solutions


Thank you for that link!
 
Paul Gutches
Posts: 106
Location: Taos, New Mexico
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wayne stephen wrote:Does Pinion Pine grow there . Hardy and good wildlife food source . Major ingredient in pesto for later. I am sure a variety of sage will grow there. Cottonwoods. I am trying to compare to high desert in Arizona. Desert Sycamores.


not only that, but cilantro grows quite happily under piƱon pine, and is another wonderful ingredient in pesto.

 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1066
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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this a good thread im going to have to join, one thing i'd recommend as a quick, effective way to slow evaporation cheaply (relatively) is to imprint the land wherever possible, this causes micro rises and depressions, collecting organic matter, weed and grass seeds, and even better, water
about 23:45 in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD2CBLmkw6c
heres another video from a different company, but it seems to mostly be the same effect... a little more homogenous from the looks of it but i think it would easily work in replacement of the design that was used in that vid with Mr. Mollison in it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3qkEejAiek
the idea would to get that soil thats getting baked to death with grasses and other plants to slow evaporation, and make sure most of the water evaporating does so through plants so that it is creating biomass and building water absorbing soil and organic matter on its way up

also with rocks, if you have a lot, you might consider a few small scale air wells above your swales to feed them during the dry months as well as using them as mulch and such http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_well_%28condenser%29

there are some artificial material created airwells that are much more compact but besides the artificial material and high cost, they dont seem to fulfill as many functions as an airwell would...
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 3902
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
157
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Howdy Thomas, have you made any progress on your land ? This wouldn't happen to be anywhere near Battle Mountain would it? I have seen several parcels of land for sale there myself.
 
Rick Brodersen
Posts: 53
Location: Bainbridge Island,WA
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Another option is using Groasis waterbox's. I have 20 of them going right now on some high desert property in E.WA. I first started with 10 of them and had really good results. I'm basically miles from any water in an area that gets 10-14" of rainfall a year. I even planted older seedlings and even didn't fill them with enough water. I only get out there a few times a year, as it's around 4 hrs away. I was so happy with the results that I bought 10 more and now have around 45 trees planted using them, you reuse them every year...so eventually it pays off. A little costly upfront but so far it's working really well for me.

 
Yone' Ward
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
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Mesquite puts a tap root as far down as 190 ft, fixes nitrogen, feeds bees, produces an edible been pod, the wood burns slow and hot, and is considered an invasive weed by many. It apparently can't handle freezing or I would be looking to grow some. Check to see if it's legal in your area, and consider it.
 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1066
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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just realised how your soil looks like the soil in this area when its feeling a little dry, looks really quite similar, whats the subsoil look like?

ours is even sandier than the topsoil, whitish in color with lots of white, chalk like stone in it, just asking cus im getting to work on a pond and though im not as deep as i plan to get its not looking like ill have any onsite clay to work with whatsoever... wondering how similar your site is
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Yone' Ward wrote:Mesquite puts a tap root as far down as 190 ft, fixes nitrogen, feeds bees, produces an edible been pod, the wood burns slow and hot, and is considered an invasive weed by many. It apparently can't handle freezing or I would be looking to grow some. Check to see if it's legal in your area, and consider it.

it handles freezing just fine. It gets cold in the TX pan handle and OK.

It is a good one to grow, for sure. My pigs love the fermented bean pods.
 
Yone' Ward
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
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Abe Connally wrote:
Yone' Ward wrote:Mesquite puts a tap root as far down as 190 ft, fixes nitrogen, feeds bees, produces an edible been pod, the wood burns slow and hot, and is considered an invasive weed by many. It apparently can't handle freezing or I would be looking to grow some. Check to see if it's legal in your area, and consider it.

it handles freezing just fine. It gets cold in the TX pan handle and OK.

It is a good one to grow, for sure. My pigs love the fermented bean pods.
Do you know what zone it is rated at? Last time I went looking, I couldn't find it.
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Yone' Ward wrote:Do you know what zone it is rated at? Last time I went looking, I couldn't find it.

I don't know for sure, but I think they are good to zone 5.

also, check this out for an alternative to the Groasis Waterboxx: http://www.permies.com/t/22657/desert/Wicking-Irrigation-Tree-Establishment
 
Frank Fernando
Posts: 5
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One thing that has worked for me, is using water absorbing polymers. Something like "soil moist" mixed with LOTS of compost and as big of a hole as you can dig. Also mulch a large area around the tree. I use wood chips. Keeping the sun and wind of is half the battle.
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Byron Auker wrote:One thing that has worked for me, is using water absorbing polymers. Something like "soil moist" mixed with LOTS of compost and as big of a hole as you can dig. Also mulch a large area around the tree. I use wood chips. Keeping the sun and wind of is half the battle.

is that like the stuff in diapers? could you use the "gel" insides of diapers for that, too?
 
Frank Fernando
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Yep. Same stuff. It's cheaper to buy it without the diapers : )
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Byron Auker wrote:Yep. Same stuff. It's cheaper to buy it without the diapers : )

well, unless you already have the diapers. My youngest son is just out of diapers, but he wears one at night for accidents. He hardly ever has an accident, but after wearing the diaper once or twice, it's not comfortable anymore. And so, we have a bunch of diapers that don't have anything in them.

Also, I have a bunch of diapers that have only urine in them. I assume you could load those up with water and use them, too.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
Posts: 109
Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,400' Zone 8a
1
greening the desert
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Byron Auker wrote:One thing that has worked for me, is using water absorbing polymers.

Me too. Soil Moist works really well in the sandy soil I've been dealing with. To be honest, I was a little afraid to bring it up being a synthetic (chemical?) amendment.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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