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Anybody growing without irrigation?

 
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we are not looking to  measure how cooperation works.  if 30 plants are growing together  and each of them needs thus amount of water, i believe they can share this.  i do not know the mechanism.



Charlotte,

Worldwide, this works. The water that is evaporated by a tree in Texas falls as rain and is used by a tree somewhere else. In a field, this will not work; water that has left leaf as vapor will not be available to other plants. Now, I could see some plants shading others to reduce evaporation, but a certain amount of water needs to evaporate.


Plants break down water to create sugars and other carbohydrates; that water can't be shared. Plants evaporate water to keep their leaves cool enough to continue photosynthesis; this water can't be shared. Plants transpire water to filter out minerals from soil water; this water can't be shared.

Can each plant use less? Obviously; but they can't recycle the water.

Now, there is some evidence that some trees lift water from deep roots, and then leak it into the shallow layers of the soil, for various way; but that is water the plant is not using.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Gilbert, there is rain that 'magically' appears beyond the rainfall if you have the correct structure of plants to capture and recirculate that water. I can keep potted plants alive outside which would die if they weren't being dripped upon by the crepe myrtles that I've placed them below. This isn't any extra water than would have fallen in the space, but by being used more than once, it is effectively extra water added to the equation. This is just one example where more plants in the area reduces the total water needed for the number of plants.



But, had the crepe myrtles used the water, or did it just run off of them?
 
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@charlotte a.:" i guess seeds have their own internal mechanism for knowing when their time is right and the time was not right."

It's an inside joke with me, myself, and I, but I laughed out loud upon reading this.  At this point for a separate project, I'm going through "seed germination hell", and realizing first hand just how incredible it is that we have garden and crop seeds that will give 90+% germination right out of the bag. So your lament rang loud and clear to me.

@Tyler L. Re: Yield comparisons.

It seems that we are just at that point in time where these studies don't yet exist in abundance.  It's a bit like some medical breakthroughs, the benefits of which today we take for granted, but did not even exist several decades ago.  As an example, however, of the fact that ag science may be taking notice of the biodynamic/permie trend, the American Phytopathological Society has, for many years, had two mainstay publishing journals, 'Phytopathology' and 'Plant Disease', both as you can imagine, leaning heavily toward large-scale ag.  'Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions' was added later to capitalize on....and serve....the increase in molecular genetic investigations.  Now a newcomer arrives soon to their publications-- 'Phytobiomes' -- which describes itself as "...a transdisciplinary journal of original research on organisms and communities interacting with plants in any ecosystem. It includes the fundamental to translational work of scientists in the areas of microbiology, virology, nutrient cycling, climate change, ecology, agronomy, entomology, computational biology, nematology, plant pathology, and more".  -- http://apsjournals.apsnet.org/page/aboutphytobiomes
So a major ag research society is embarking on a scientific journal publication....open access I might add.... that is finally addressing some long awaited questions.  It is a nod to this increasing trend of 'organics' in agriculture, but also illustrative of lack of previous venues for reporting such research.

@Casie B: "Too many people have successfully made it work for me to dismiss it as magic, it's more of a masterpiece when it works. "

Yeah, I've become really intrigued by water in this way recently.  Ever since seeing things like "air wells" that capture condensate and contemplating the microbial teas, it's become a fascination just what we do and don't know about water in the air and water in the ground in both adsorbed and non-adsorbed forms.  So many cool things to investigate, so few hours and dinars....
 
Gilbert Fritz
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People who are looking to COPY what someone else does to be ASSURED success [censored by permies.com].  With so many variables you have to be willing to do extensive research and then TRY and ERR.   That's all there is to it -- unless you want to be a corporate / conventional farmer.

If you can't even understand the basics such as why no till, soil structure, microbes and mycorrhizae are critical in arid environments you're on the road to failure.



For the record:

A. I know that there are a lot of variables. But the best starting place is somebody in a similar climate who has documented their results. Otherwise we will all flail around reinventing the wheel.

B. I never said that no till, soil structure, microbes and mycorrhizae were not critical in arid environments! I just said that they don't produce water. It would be as if I said, my chickens produce wonderful eggs, but they haven't built me a house yet; and then everyone kept talking about how wonderful chickens were! The soil has a big impact on how well the water is stored, but it can't create more, which is why it is possible, though not certain, that widely space plants may produce a yield in an area where dense plantings fail.
 
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Charlotte, just lost a long post, so a brief summary:

Been following Steve Solomon's Soil & Health group for many years.  FYI someone posted he's in Oregon.  He actually renounced his citizenship and moved to Tasmania quite a few years ago.  He changed his advice substantially since he learned about mineralization.  There is the law of MINIMUMS and if you're missing a micro nutrient certain plants just won't do well.  

That's where azomite comes in and I was very excited about it too, but some people warn about excess ALUMINUM in very acidic or alkaline soil, such as mine with a pH of 8.2 - 8.7.  I'm not so enthusiastic about it anymore since I already have trouble with my memory, don't want to add to that by eating my own veggies.

The other thing about soil tests is that you'll get info about EXCESS metals etc. (if the tests work right.)  Wish I could afford actual plant and fruit / veggie testing.

I also was very excited about Elaine Ingham's compost tea and immediately built a brewer about 5 years ago, but it's hard being off the grid and running a brewer 24 / 7 and not being able to apply it during the day.  I have a friend who built a big brewer, but he's got power.  And, Elaine didn't say that all soil has everything a plant needs (that's ridiculous!), but she referred to "agricultural soil", it was a big argument in Solomon's group.  There IS very interesting science claiming that bacteria actually CHANGE elements or create elements out of nothing and we have a lot to learn.

I find biodynamics fascinating and use the biodynamic planting calendar -- it can't hurt.  

So many cool things to try ...

You have a MUCH bigger property and that's great, but it also costs a lot more and is a lot more work!

I have to do some work now, but will read your website later.
 
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:

Gilbert, there is rain that 'magically' appears beyond the rainfall if you have the correct structure of plants to capture and recirculate that water. I can keep potted plants alive outside which would die if they weren't being dripped upon by the crepe myrtles that I've placed them below. This isn't any extra water than would have fallen in the space, but by being used more than once, it is effectively extra water added to the equation. This is just one example where more plants in the area reduces the total water needed for the number of plants.



But, had the crepe myrtles used the water, or did it just run off of them?



They had used the water, it falls out of the leaves. I think (no research here) that the plant pulls the water for transpiration faster than it evaporates. Regardless, the liquid drips out of the leaves. Doing a little poking around suggests that in many instances where this appears to happen it is actually insects dripping honeydew produced from sap pulled from the tree. In both cases, the water has traveled through the tree before falling outside of it again.  In the case of honeydew, I think you got an extra dose of plant nutrient included.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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so gilbert, can you take your 450,000 gallons an acre a year and divide that into weeks and tell me what your plants would get a week if all that water stayed there.



That is 14 inches; most crops, as a general rule of thumb, will need about an inch of water a week in Denver. So if all the water was stored, we could get through three and a half months. I will guess that no matter how clever we are, some rainfall will not make it into the soil, but evaporate from the surface of the mulch or from the leaves. And Denver's water comes in many small batches from fast moving storms, so that the total evaporation loss can be high.

And, almost half this rain falls in March, April, and May, more then half in a bad year. Even a rich, spongy potting mix will only hold 3 inches of water per foot, so to store six inches I would need two feet of rich, loamy soil; and on a large scale, that will be difficult to do.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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They had used the water, it falls out of the leaves. I think (no research here) that the plant pulls the water for transpiration faster than it evaporates. Regardless, the liquid drips out of the leaves. Doing a little poking around suggests that in many instances where this appears to happen it is actually insects dripping honeydew produced from sap pulled from the tree. In both cases, the water has traveled through the tree before falling outside of it again.  In the case of honeydew, I think you got an extra dose of plant nutrient included.

Are you sure it is not dewfall condensing?

 
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bear in mind that rich living soil should store more water than a sterile potting mix.
 
Casie Becker
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:
Are you sure it is not dewfall condensing?



There's two parts here. One is that if it were dewfall condensing and then falling, that would be water gain above and beyond the measured rainfall, caused by the plant.

The second part is, yes I'm sure it's not dewfall condensing. The hotter the day, the faster these drops fall. We have a small table and chair that sometimes we sit under them at during the day and enjoy the cooling effect during the heat of the day. This is hours after all the dew has evaporated.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Part of the benefits of layered polyculture is the interactions. Lower layers transpire less because of shade. What they do transpire becomes localized humidity supporting the taller plants taking the brunt of the sun and whatever wind gets through the windbreaks.
 
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Casie Becker wrote:

I highly recommend watching the video. Not only does he give his yield per acre, he gives the comparable yields the conventional farms in his area are producing.



I watched it awhile back and do not recall yields per acre of vegetables.

Why can this information not be posted in this thread, by people who are familiar with it?

For instance, this article gives information about rainfall amounts and percentage of increase of yield of specific crops, using the technique of Zai Holes: https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/echocommunity.site-ym.com/resource/collection/27A14B94-EFE8-4D8A-BB83-36A61F414E3B/TN_78_Zai_Pit_System.pdf

Why is this kind of information available from Africa, but not from North America?

 
Casie Becker
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Okay, I can only find the yield for corn (142 bushes per acre vs under 100 per acre county avg just after 37 min). I've watched several of his lectures and must be confusing this one with another.

He talks about his vegetable garden here at 48 min. No yield numbers but they were donating excess to local families.

I'll take a little time tonight to see if I can find the lecture where he compares yields.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks.  It's not surprising there would be excess vegetables from a 30 acre field of vegetables, even if the yield was very low per acre.
 
Casie Becker
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At 34:22 County average corn 98 bushels per acre, his is now 127
Spring wheat 39 to 62, Oats 62 to 112, Barley 48 to 72

At 55 min he starts comparing four different farms within a mile of each other and how healthy the different techniques leave the ground. That includes the soil test results that came back from a lab in Temple, TX.

Near the end he talks about how to calculate the water holding capacity of your soil, and how to increase it.

Interesting about this talk for those people trying to earn a living is that he discusses in this talk how much total costs  it takes him to produce an acre of cash crop.

I actually love listening to him talk, though I seldom have the time. Even though most of it isn't directly applicable to my life, it sounds so hopeful and doable.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yes, I find his videos very encouraging!  But maybe not especially helpful to a gardener who has a small amount of land and wants to grow fruit or vegetables without irrigation in an area with less the 20 inches of rain a year.

It might be interesting to discuss how one would emulate Brown's vegetable-growing technique in the back yard.  Would it even be possible, planting 70 varieties of vegetables, grains and cover crops?  What about the rotational grazing aspect?  How would that be emulated on the small scale?
 
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tyler, re control plots:  there are 100 acres here planted in rye grass.  I am using 20 of them, so i have the other 80 as a control.  i am not spraying these 80 acres.

re rotational grazing.  we are not adding rotational grazing for our food forest, it is a different system.  if we had cows bellies to ferment the cover crops we would not need the innoculation of microbes.  

our methods using diversified  cover crops with the food forest planted into this is definitely doable on a small or back yard scale.

we are doing it on a large scale for these reasons:

1) industrial agriculture is damaging the planet and we want to make it obsolete.
2) the quality of the food is killing the planet's people and we want to demonstrate a model for healthy food.
3) the size of the acerage in india where rain actually came more frequently when these practices were begun was 17 acres and we wanted to demonstrate this.


the other thing i am doing is there are 400 acres here in the native ground cover, juniper, sage, yarrow, lupine and other crops.  i do want to take 1 acre of this and plant it with cover crops and  innoculate it but have not done it yet.  

when i can afford the tests i will take biological samples of these various fields.  as i said i am hoping to somehow find a person from the extension service or another outside evaluator to measure all of this.  the problem for me is that most evaluators are not interested in the soil biology, so i have to find the right person or organization.
 
Casie Becker
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That's actually an interesting question. I moved my long winded answer over to it's own thread if you want to follow it there.https://permies.com/t/58615/urban/Gabe-Brown-techiques-scaled-super

Since I water these garden beds, at least occasionally, they didn't seem to fit well in the discussion about growing without irrigation.
 
charlotte anthony
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cassie, looking forward to the new thread.  

tyler, for diversity i believe that 20 varieties are the minimum with 1/2 of those being nitrogen fixing.  you do not need 70.  in the victory gardens where we used microbial innoculations we would put some perennial herbs outside the garden, some comfrey, some insectary plants and easily got 20 varieties even with just a 10 x 10 garden plot.  so to grow without irrigation and without fertilizer you need serious crop diversity and serious carbon in the soil which i accomplish with microbes.

i have posted on my web site a cropping pattern in india where there were only 6 crops, one of them cotton and they had grown this pattern for hundreds of years with the soil improving every year.   it is 50% nitrogen fixing.   but since i do not know what the 6 crops are that would work and do not have a hundred years to figure it out, i went with 20.,
 
Tyler Ludens
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charlotte anthony wrote:tyler, re control plots:  there are 100 acres here planted in rye grass.  I am using 20 of them, so i have the other 80 as a control.



It would only be considered a control if you are growing rye grass in your sprayed plots.  If not, there would need to be an unsprayed patch which is planted to the same crops you're planting in the microbe patches.  Otherwise there will be no way to compare yield between the sprayed and unsprayed areas.  If you're growing vegetables, there would need to be an unsprayed patch of vegetables planted and grown the same way as the sprayed areas, but without the spray.  This would provide a baseline against which to measure the effectiveness of the spray, so you would be able to tell people "spraying with microbes increased yield by 98%" or whatever it might be.  Otherwise there is no way to tell if the microbes are actually doing anything.
 
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:

we are not looking to  measure how cooperation works.  if 30 plants are growing together  and each of them needs thus amount of water, i believe they can share this.  i do not know the mechanism.


Worldwide, this works. The water that is evaporated by a tree in Texas falls as rain and is used by a tree somewhere else. In a field, this will not work; water that has left leaf as vapor will not be available to other plants.



Say your relative humidity is 95%. There will be no dew.
Say your relative humidity is 95% and a leaf is transpiring, the area around that leaf will now have a RH above 95%, quite likely 100%, and you will get water condensing that has already passed thru one plant, and is now available for another.
Another way of looking at this is the more densely you have planted, the more you have raised the dew point temperature.
Think of the rainforests, if you take away the forests you won't get the rain anymore. The rainforest uses the same water over and over in a small area.

Also, as has been mentioned, tree leaves sweat and this drips off onto plants below
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Say your relative humidity is 95%. There will be no dew.
Say your relative humidity is 95% and a leaf is transpiring, the area around that leaf will now have a RH above 95%, quite likely 100%, and you will get water condensing that has already passed thru one plant, and is now available for another.
Another way of looking at this is the more densely you have planted, the more you have raised the dew point temperature.
Think of the rainforests, if you take away the forests you won't get the rain anymore. The rainforest uses the same water over and over in a small area.



Steve,

I could see this working on a fairly large scale (hundreds of acres) with trees. But in a field of annual vegetables, don't you think that any increase in dew fall would be counterbalanced by the greater evapotranspiration? And the wind will lower the effect of the plants on the local microclimate.

For instance; here in Denver, dewfall is relatively uncommon, even in grass fields, which are as densely planted as you could wish to see (and fairly polycultural.) Such grass fields burn up brown and dry soon after the rains stop. On the other hand, dew IS more common on plastic tarps and such, because of radiant cooling.

I'd like to differentiate this from fog or dew harvest by plants; in a few special locations, any plant turns into a wonderful dew or fog harvester, but those areas are unusual.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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In the end, we are all about mimicking nature here, and dry climates tend to have a lower density of plants then wet ones and less biomass per acre.
 
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:In the end, we are all about mimicking nature here, and dry climates tend to have a lower density of plants then wet ones and less biomass per acre.



That's true. I wonder what these dry places looked like before people employed slash and burn, tree felling, and mass grazing of goats. My land and the area all around looks like it is naturally desert, but there are photos of nearby areas which look similar now, showing them forested. There is stuff that grows naturally but 2 or 3 times a year a guy with several hundred goats comes along and devastates anything green. Give me 50 years and a good fence and I'll get back to you on what nature could really do.
 
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At Edible Acres (www.edibleacres.org) I run a nursery that uses no irrigation at all for all my propagation, food production, plantings, etc.  Some collected rain water for establishment, but no irrigation.
We are normally a not so dry area, Finger Lakes area of NYS gets roughly 30" a year, but this year our town broke the record for driest growing season since records began in 1892 so a huge huge testing year for the practices I've been using for 10 years.  Deep deep mulch, high density planting and high structural diversity seems to beget super resilient plants.  I made a video during the peak of the drought, may be worth seeing?



Also have a video up of what our 1st year farm looks like at a new place where we are growing a ton of potatoes and other annual crops, again with no irrigation at all and during a 120 year drought...

 
Tyler Ludens
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Sean Dembrosky wrote:Finger Lakes area of NYS gets roughly 30" a year



We get nearly that down here, on average, but because of being so much closer to the equator, evaporation is much higher.  It doesn't look much like New York down here!  People don't tend to take latitude into account when discussing dryland growing.  A more northern location is going to have more success on a low amount of rainfall than a southern one (reverse for souther hemisphere).

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Your operation looks impressive Sean! And we are all going to see more of this sort of stuff.

That said, altitude, groundwater storage the evapotranspiration rate and as Tyler pointed out the latitude are also important differences between folks getting through drought in wet areas and folks stuck in drylands. But impressive none the less, and with lessons to be learned. I wonder how much your surrounding trees are helping out with hydrostatic lift from deep groundwater banked in good years.

The problem is that when I get a drought, it is REALLY bad! In 2002, the metro area got 7.5 inches for the year, half the average.
 
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Don't know if PDFs attach properly to these posts....if they do, Tyler L., you may already have a copy of this document from Austin, TX.  Don't know how different the conditions there are might be from your own location, but there may be something of use in this educational brochure (attached).  Decided to post it to the thread in case others find something of use.  (Urrrrggh....sorry for the size!)
Filename: AustinTXgarden.pdf
File size: 6 megabytes
 
Tyler Ludens
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That's a nice document.  I'm not convinced hugelkultur works here unless it's really huge - I made some smallish hugelkultur and they dried out.  My entire vegetable garden is buried wood beds.  It helps but does not eliminate the need for irrigation.

 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:That's a nice document.  I'm not convinced hugelkultur works here unless it's really huge - I made some smallish hugelkultur and they dried out.  My entire vegetable garden is buried wood beds.  It helps but does not eliminate the need for irrigation.



I tend to agree with you on this. Even in my climate, while it helps it probably needs to be Sepp huge to work right. That being said, never making a non hugel raised bed again because it does help a lot.
 
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