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Cold Desert property in Iran

 
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Hello Dear Permies.

Some facts about the property
-Area: 4 hectares
-Altitude: 1600m from sea level
-Zone: This winter I exprience -20 celisious. so maybe zone 6
-Full sun more than 95% of year
-Yearly Rainfall/Snow 50-200ml
-Access to a shared spring water 48 hours every 12 days. the water is not salty but has a relatively high Salt + Sulfur content
-soil is Heavy clay
-the previous owners had used the property as an orchard, around 30% of the land has some 5-15 years old trees of plums, apples, pears and grapes. the rest of the trees have died for various reasons, most importantly suffocation from excess salt build up. some walnut trees also exists but they are still as big as a seedling after 15 years.
-there are two big ponds built into the property high up, for water storage. one is cement and one is plastic.
-traditionally the farmers in the area grow almonds, apples, pears, plums, apricots and walnuts. besides many farms are just monoculture wheat, corn, sugar beet and potato. however since each (group of farms rely on a different local spring water and each spring has different mineral profile I can't just copy their style and except the same results.
-own it since autumn 2020 and this is the first time I own a land for agriculture
[/list]

What I'm aiming for
Taking full advantage of the land and its properties and produce as much food and other organic material as possible for income as well as,
-Full self sufficient off-grid and organic living using,
-Permacuture Food forest (native traditional farming really.. however I want to incorporate the ideas from the modern era permaculture as well, hoping for a better result)


Challenges
Besides harsh weather the main solution I'm researching right now is the irrigation. the previous owners of the property have tried flood irrigation and dripping irrigation but they all have resigned in frustration as far as I know for the reasons bellow:
Flood irrigation causes excess salt build up in the soil, besides heavy clay causes soil erosion all the time by the moving water and requires maintenance all the time
Dripping irrigation breaks quite fast because of the sediment build up in the drippers and rodents destroying the plastic pipes all around
Minimal water infiltration due to clay soil has resulted in dwarf trees


anyone having dealt with the same scenarios who want to share some ideas?

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pioneer
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Hey Benjamin,  I like your name! Welcome to permies and it sounds as if you are at the beginning of a great adventure!

Sounds as if you are in zone 5 perhaps, I'm in zone 6 and can see those low temperatures but not very often.

Not sure how much 100ml translates into inches / year,  but it doesn't sound like very much.

As a relatively new member myself I don't feel comfortable giving specific advice, but I would suggest beginning with
Dr. RedHawk's Epic Soil Series
 
author & gardener
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Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
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Benyamin, welcome to Permies! And congratulations on your property!

You really have an interesting challenge before you. I love that you have been observing, have foundational goals, and understand your challenges. Your photos are fantastic too. I have no experience with this kind of environment, but you've come to the right place to ask questions, share ideas, and brainstorm. I'll be very interested in your progress. I hope you continue to share!
 
pollinator
Posts: 338
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6b
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Hello Benjamin -- what beautiful landscape; beautiful and harsh.

Do you have access to digging machinery? It sounds like it could be a good idea to make an underground "moisture battery" in the form of a trench filled with organic matter (wood, leaves, grass, whatever - wood is important because of slower decomposition) and the either topped with soil thinly or more organics.

Our property does not have such a large number of trees and so close so I'm digging in wood individually as I plant. Ours location has a classic continental climate, so it's on the dry side, but yours seems really very dry. Therefore I can't really say oh just do this and you'll be fine - I don't have direct experience with dry conditions to that extent. But it does seem reasonable to try.

But that's just about moisture itself... I would imagine salt accumulation is the truly hard part. I don't have an answer for that apart from going with species which are known to be tolerant. Your location seems too cold for figs and carob. Maybe jujube? Mulberry could also work if the cold is only there truly in the winter and you don't get late frosts. You mentioned apricots and even almonds being grown around you and if those come through early spring in good shape, mulberries would as well.

But it also would be a shame to waste all the existing trees.

The upside of having that many trees is that you can try a number of different approaches all at the same time and with more than just 1 or 2 trees taking part in the same experiment, so you can think of it as a blessing in disguise - it should take less time to see in practice which approach works.



 
Posts: 99
Location: Southern Utah
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Howdy from the high desert of Southern Utah.  We have similar conditions with a few exceptions.  I am at 5300' (1600m), dry soil but it is sandy not clay, I have trees but it is difficult to get non-native trees established here as well, and the soil here tends to build up salts if we don't get at least one good rainfall a year.

I think you can improve your conditions and make your land successful but you will have to take a different approach than what you would expect.  I have started this new system about 5 months ago so I am hoping this year is more successful for me.  I suggest you look into 3 different, but similar, approaches to farming and permaculture in a desert type environment.  

The first video that change my way of thinking was The Biggest Little Farm.
https://www.amazon.com/Biggest-Little-Farm-John-Chester/dp/B07R4CFF3M/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=the+biggest+little+farm&qid=1614372398&sr=8-2  
I am able to watch it on HULU for free, of you can rent it on Amazon or other providers or there is a DVD you can buy if this video link doesn't work for you.  
They show you how they took a high desert farm in California that had failed several times before by previous owners and made it into a very successful farm and ranch with fruit trees and vegetables and animals.  The first thing they will explain is that you need mulch to nourish the soil and hold in water and keep the ground cool.  It is a very informative movie,  I have watched it a dozen times or more learning new things each time.

The second video I recommend is Back To Eden Gardening.  It is a documentary on how Paul Gautschi uses wood chips and mulch to continually improve the soil and retain moisture.  It is similar to The Biggest Little Ranch video but with a different approach.  I have watched this a couple times already and I have brought in plenty of wood chips the past few months to help me get started with this for planting this spring.  
https://youtu.be/6rPPUmStKQ4

The third idea to consider, maybe on a smaller scale to begin with, is creating a Microclimate by planting trees and bushes and plants and ground cover and making a small pond and creating shade, all of which will increase the humidity in that small area and slightly lower the air temperature and help hold moisture in the ground.  The idea is you start with a small area, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet, and whenever you get a chance you can add to the edges and slowly make the area larger and larger.  There are plenty of short videos on Microclimates, and plenty of websites with information to read, but I am not aware of a long movie explaining the process.  A quick search found this website, just to give you an idea, but you can find many more that may be more suitable for what you want to obtain.
https://www.gardeninginthedesert.com/microclimates/

My final suggestions are to get a soil test kit, or a few electronic gauges that can test the soil by inserting a probe into the dirt, so you know what nutrients you need to add to your soil.  Odds are you are lacking in Nitrogen and Phosphorous, and that will probably explain why your trees are struggling, and with the salty soil I am guessing your soil is Alkaline and you may need to add some sulfur to bring it to a more neutral PH level.

I know the videos above talk about wood chips and tree branches and compost, but if you don't have them available you can use hay or straw or cut grasses to create a layer of material on top of the dirt that will break down and help the soil.

Good luck.
 
ben heidorn
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Gabion(gabene) rock pillars for condensate collection. Definitely establishing micro climates as Michael suggests would ensure the greatest chance of success. Then utilizing the established ponds only as back up irrigation. Research methods of reducing evaporation and increasing collection to them. Growing fish when weather allows will add to fertility.  Dr RedHawk's research indicates that  fungal activity in the soil can reduce salinity.  I will add more as I think of it.
 
pioneer
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Location: Herding farming god of travel and fast horses.Holy fool.
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As Michael Fundaro stated mulch is very helpful.Also you might experiment with sunken beds.Look up Crater gardening Sepp Holzer as well.Here in Southwest what some Navajo farmers do is use shade cloth.The sun is just to intense now a days.Another technique I have seen and am experimenting with is Zai farming.Look up Yacouba Sawadogo if you have the chance.Thank you for sharing I hope you develop techniques that work for your area and our able to share your success with us.
 
pioneer
Posts: 303
Location: Russia, ~250m altitude, zone 5a, Moscow oblast, in the greater Sergeiv Posad reigon.
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Do you get flooding where you are? What is the main evaporation factor, sunlight or wind? Swales are great for desalting the land. Capture every bit of water you can, and get it under the ground, which itself should be under a thick layer of organic matter. This will protect the water from evaporation. I see that you get snow. Is it wind blown? Can you pattern for snow capture?

Partnering your fruit and nut trees with pollarded chop n’ drop legumes is usually a good move. The loss of photosynthesis in the legumes will trigger the tree to prune it’s roots and release nitrogen and organic matter into the soil.
 
Benyamin Ghasemi
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Thanks for the great replies everyone :)

ben heidorn wrote:Hey Benjamin,  I like your name! Welcome to permies and it sounds as if you are at the beginning of a great adventure!

Sounds as if you are in zone 5 perhaps, I'm in zone 6 and can see those low temperatures but not very often.

Not sure how much 100ml translates into inches / year,  but it doesn't sound like very much.

As a relatively new member myself I don't feel comfortable giving specific advice, but I would suggest beginning with
Dr. RedHawk's Epic Soil Series


Thanks ben, this winter was exceptionally cold. otherwise I don't it goes this cold in the area here every year either :) 100ml is 3.9 inch. everyone rely on aquifers and natural springs here for agriculture (there are a plenty of them here).
 
Benyamin Ghasemi
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Leigh Tate wrote:Benyamin, welcome to Permies! And congratulations on your property!

You really have an interesting challenge before you. I love that you have been observing, have foundational goals, and understand your challenges. Your photos are fantastic too. I have no experience with this kind of environment, but you've come to the right place to ask questions, share ideas, and brainstorm. I'll be very interested in your progress. I hope you continue to share!


Thank you Leigh, I'm glad for finding this place :)
 
Benyamin Ghasemi
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Crt Jakhel wrote:Hello Benjamin -- what beautiful landscape; beautiful and harsh.

Do you have access to digging machinery? It sounds like it could be a good idea to make an underground "moisture battery" in the form of a trench filled with organic matter (wood, leaves, grass, whatever - wood is important because of slower decomposition) and the either topped with soil thinly or more organics.

Our property does not have such a large number of trees and so close so I'm digging in wood individually as I plant. Ours location has a classic continental climate, so it's on the dry side, but yours seems really very dry. Therefore I can't really say oh just do this and you'll be fine - I don't have direct experience with dry conditions to that extent. But it does seem reasonable to try.

But that's just about moisture itself... I would imagine salt accumulation is the truly hard part. I don't have an answer for that apart from going with species which are known to be tolerant. Your location seems too cold for figs and carob. Maybe jujube? Mulberry could also work if the cold is only there truly in the winter and you don't get late frosts. You mentioned apricots and even almonds being grown around you and if those come through early spring in good shape, mulberries would as well.

But it also would be a shame to waste all the existing trees.

The upside of having that many trees is that you can try a number of different approaches all at the same time and with more than just 1 or 2 trees taking part in the same experiment, so you can think of it as a blessing in disguise - it should take less time to see in practice which approach works.


Thanks for the tip Crt, I need to research the moisture battery thing, but sounds like a kind of hugelkultur, there is not much organic material in the farm right now, even all the grasses and hays got grazed away by boars and rabbits and even the herd of sheep which grazed the farm while I was away, however I'm planting tones of black locusts and honey locusts and some other legumes from seed this year. based on my research they should work well here and produces tones of organic matter and wood in no time.
there are already some mulberrys in the farm, they produce well however they aren't big trees, maybe because they have hard time penetrating the heavy clay. I will definitely plant more of them. Jujubes and Russian olives are natives around here so I will plant a bunch of them too. its definitely too cold for figs and carobs but I'll try the proclaimed cold hardy figs.
 
Benyamin Ghasemi
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Michael Fundaro wrote:
The third idea to consider, maybe on a smaller scale to begin with, is creating a Microclimate by planting trees and bushes and plants and ground cover and making a small pond and creating shade, all of which will increase the humidity in that small area and slightly lower the air temperature and help hold moisture in the ground.  The idea is you start with a small area, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet, and whenever you get a chance you can add to the edges and slowly make the area larger and larger.  There are plenty of short videos on Microclimates, and plenty of websites with information to read, but I am not aware of a long movie explaining the process.  A quick search found this website, just to give you an idea, but you can find many more that may be more suitable for what you want to obtain.
https://www.gardeninginthedesert.com/microclimates/

My final suggestions are to get a soil test kit, or a few electronic gauges that can test the soil by inserting a probe into the dirt, so you know what nutrients you need to add to your soil.  Odds are you are lacking in Nitrogen and Phosphorous, and that will probably explain why your trees are struggling, and with the salty soil I am guessing your soil is Alkaline and you may need to add some sulfur to bring it to a more neutral PH level.

I know the videos above talk about wood chips and tree branches and compost, but if you don't have them available you can use hay or straw or cut grasses to create a layer of material on top of the dirt that will break down and help the soil.
Good luck.



Thanks for the tips, Micheal. I'll dive in the material soon.
I 100% agree that mulching, micro climates and shade from the plants and trees is the way to go. however I'm stuck right now because I was looking for a solution that gets  the whole farm going in one go, it might be more practical to start small as you said 10x10 feet. but at the same time I need to solve the irrigation problem for the existing trees too.
I have already done a couple of lab tests on the soil and the water. the water itself is rich with nitrates, potassium, sulfur and magnesium but no phosphorous. the soil itself lacks nitrogen and one indicator is that most weeds are nitrogen fixing weeds. To improve nitrogen I'll plant lots of legumes but for phosphorous I'm not sure what I can do other than chemical addition. Also since the water itself is rich in sulfur I don't need to add any sulfur, however I've heard lime or gypsum are great to help loosen up the heavy clay soil.

here are the water test results from lab:

   EC: 2080 us/cm
   Salt: 1.56 ppt
   Ca: 168 mg/l
   Na: 230 mg/l
   Sulfates: 116 mg/l
   Mg: 72 mg/l
   K: 4.1 mg/l
   Ba: 1.5 mg/l
   Nitrates (NO3): 2.21 mg/l
   Nitrites (NO2): 0.0049 mg/l
 
ben heidorn
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Benyamin, sorry I misspelled your name earlier,  I must have fallen for the autocorrecting vision  propensity of the human mind  I would imagine that through translation and etymology our names might have similar meaning.  Benjamin means  Son of the south, my surname in german translates to high thorny land. So I am a son of the southern hills, but I prefer hillbilly, hahaha!


I understand that you made an investment and need to see production,  but don't get caught in the trap of struggling to keep trees alive that will never thrive. Focus on the ones that show the most promise and use the others for organic material to build your soil.
 
Michael Fundaro
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Benyamin Ghasemi wrote:

Thanks for the tips, Micheal. I'll dive in the material soon.
I 100% agree that mulching, micro climates and shade from the plants and trees is the way to go. however I'm stuck right now because I was looking for a solution that gets  the whole farm going in one go, it might be more practical to start small as you said 10x10 feet. but at the same time I need to solve the irrigation problem for the existing trees too.
I have already done a couple of lab tests on the soil and the water. the water itself is rich with nitrates, potassium, sulfur and magnesium but no phosphorous. the soil itself lacks nitrogen and one indicator is that most weeds are nitrogen fixing weeds. To improve nitrogen I'll plant lots of legumes but for phosphorous I'm not sure what I can do other than chemical addition. Also since the water itself is rich in sulfur I don't need to add any sulfur, however I've heard lime or gypsum are great to help loosen up the heavy clay soil.

here are the water test results from lab:

   EC: 2080 us/cm
   Salt: 1.56 ppt
   Ca: 168 mg/l
   Na: 230 mg/l
   Sulfates: 116 mg/l
   Mg: 72 mg/l
   K: 4.1 mg/l
   Ba: 1.5 mg/l
   Nitrates (NO3): 2.21 mg/l
   Nitrites (NO2): 0.0049 mg/l



I agree with trying to get anything started on all your property, I would want to experiment with that as well.  With the microclimate idea it is definitely easier to start small and constantly try to expand as time and materials allow.

Did the soil tests give any recommendation on what to add to your soil, and how much to add?  I am not fond of adding chemical fertilizer but I had to decide to start with fertilizer so I can get anything to grow while I try to nurish the soil with natural materials.  It would take years for me to build up the soil with using the limited amount of free materials available to me.

Around here, prior to the development of electric water pumps for sprinkler systems, they used to use flood irrigation.  They sectioned their land using small berms and they would direct water into one area at a time to flood the area and let it soak into the ground.  It worked great as a deep watering technique and had less evaporation than spraying water.  Something to consider.
 
Crt Jakhel
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Benyamin, yes, essentially like hugelkultur but not as a hugel (mound), rather in reverse, upside down - in the ground where the tree roots will be looking for moisture.

Russian olives can in my experience make a good anti-wind shelterbelt since they grow thickly and are resilient. By protecting your site against wind you can make pockets of improved microclimate.

As to hardy figs, I can say that Florea = Michurinska seems to be working as advertised, ie. being very winter hardy. But of course if there is a late frost after the juices have already started flowing that can be brutal. The fruit is mostly very sweet, there is very little acid.
 
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Location: Southwestern NM
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Bill Mollison says that deep-rooted trees are super-important for keeping salts from building up. Their roots will carry the salts down and out of the soil. I'm not sure just how deep-rooted they need to be in order to work, but I am in a similar high desert climate (less clay, more sand) and am planting honey mesquite, which are native here. Their roots have been found in mine shafts 150 ft below the surface, so I'd say that's probably deep enough.  He covers it in either this video or the part 2. https://vimeo.com/138361071

Also, my property is much, much smaller, but I did some mini-swales last summer. We got less rain than usual. I never saw them fill up, and I thought they hadn't done much, but planting out this Spring notice a huge difference in soil moisture on the back of the swales. They definitely work!  I would start with swales and plant them with n-fixing deep-rooted trees.
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